Unilever to Halt Kid-Targeted Marketing on All Food and Beverage Products

A new focus on choosing healthy options for children

Good Humor ice cream truck
The founder of Good Humor, a Unilever brand, is said to have invented ice cream-on-a-stick in the 1920s. Getty Images

Unilever, which owns Popsicle and Good Humor, will stop advertising food and beverages to kids under 12 in traditional media, as well as end marketing to under-13s in social media.

The decision is based on childhood obesity concerns, according to a Unilever blog post. Moving forward, the multinational company will root the marketing efforts for kid-friendly food and beverage products in a new, three-pillar approach focused on assisting parents and caregivers in choosing healthy options for children.

“Our promise is a genuine commitment to make and market products to children responsibly,” said Matt Close, evp of Unilever’s global ice cream category, in a statement. “It is the promise of better ice cream and healthier, happier children.”

To that end, Unilever says its kids’ range food and beverage products will be responsibly communicated, sold and developed, as well as subject to more than a dozen new principles outlining marketing and product strategies.

Critics have long chided sugary packaged foods as a central fueler of the childhood obesity epidemic. An Obama-era initiative led to industry standards that cut sugar content in foods like cereal and yogurt marketed to kids. In 2014, The Coca-Cola Co., Ferrero USA, The Hershey Co., Hillshire Brands Co. and Mars all pledged not to market their products to kids under 12. Recently, the trend has begun to swing back in the direction of sugar, with many popular cereal brands debuting candy-inspired flavors just this year.

While it’s been several years since brands began first pulling back from kid-targeted marketing, Unilever does seem to have a slightly more detailed strategy. In its announcement, the company said it will not direct any food and beverage advertising in measurable media toward children under 12 or audiences in which children make up more than 25%. On digital platforms, the company said it’ll only advertise to people 13 and over—in line with most social media platforms’ age requirement of 13 years.

The brand also said it won’t employ influencers who are under the age of 12 or who market to consumers under 12, or use licensed cartoon characters or brand equity characters in marketing that appeal primarily to kids under 12. Other guidelines laid out in the company’s principles include ensuring that the product isn’t promoted in schools or children’s films and that promotional giveaways align with the overall standards.

Unilever also announced that it will be adding a label to ice cream treats and popsicles indicating that the products were “responsibly made for kids” to guide caregivers in their purchasing decisions at the point of sale. Moving forward, all kid-range ice cream treats will be capped at 110 calories and 12 grams of sugar.

Though Unilever owns several popular ice cream brands like Magnum, Ben and Jerry’s, Breyers and Klondike, those brands don’t generally target kids—it’s the brands that are touted at ice cream trucks that’ll be affected by this change. Good Humor, whose founder is said to have secured a patent for ice cream-on-a-stick and created the ice cream truck as we know it, was bought by Unilever in 1961.

According to the post, all brands in Unilever’s global kids’ ice cream portfolio are required to comply with the new standards by the end of 2020.

Unilever did not respond to requests for comment on which traditional media (television, print) it would no longer advertise with, nor did the company respond to requests for comment as to how much its ad spend is across these media.


@klundster kathryn.lundstrom@adweek.com Kathryn Lundstrom is Adweek's breaking news reporter based in Austin.
{"taxonomy":"","sortby":"","label":"","shouldShow":""}