Should Brands Always Follow Suggested Standards?

When a company’s primary audience is under the age of 12, will the public expect that company to promote only products and behaviors deemed “healthy” by third-party standards or trust it to develop its own?

To put it another way: does Cookie Monster really need to eat vegetables?

Senators and advocacy groups pushing to limit snack food ads on kids’ programs celebrated last year when The Walt Disney Company, partnering with Michelle Obama‘s “Let’s Move” anti-obesity campaign, promised to stop running spots for foods that don’t meet suggested federal nutrition standards by 2015. Disney’s chairman said the decision was “about smart business.”

Despite pressure to follow suit, Nickelodeon has chosen to continue using its own internal benchmarks—which earned praise from the same senators and advocacy groups—when deciding which food ads to run.

Last month, a coalition of organizations dedicated to reducing childhood obesity ran a full page ad in The Hollywood Reporter urging Nick to agree to observe the same standards as Disney. Around the same time, four senators made the argument in a letter to network executives (while congratulating them on the work they’d already done through their own program).

Nick then announced its intention to stick with its team’s regulations and cited their success: general food advertising has fallen by nearly 50% since 2008, and a study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, one of the groups responsible for the inflammatory print ad, found that the percentage of spots promoting foods that didn’t hew to suggested federal standards declined from 90% to 69% over the past six years.

What do you think of Nickelodeon’s CSR strategy?

(For the record, we’re just disappointed to learn that Pirate’s Booty isn’t quite  as healthy as we’d hoped when eaten in “entire bag” servings.)