Why Nickelodeon Can’t Kid Around with the Nutrition Debate

No one in the PR industry can resist a story that involves high-powered U.S. Senators, the health of American children and a juggernaut entertainment brand focused on profits. Indeed, the current health debate surrounding Nickelodeon contains drama of Shakespearean proportions.

Regardless of one’s view on the role of government, the dynamics of the family unit or society’s responsibilities to protect its children, from a public relations perspective, Americans see health as an important and challenging issue. We love the freedom to make personal decisions unfettered by the government or outside organizations. And we also love our children and want to protect them from those who seek to profit from selling our kids unhealthy products. And that is where the PR battle lines are being drawn with Nickelodeon right in the middle.

Nickelodeon generally has a clean, wholesome image. Chuck E. Cheese and junk food brands, which advertise on the Viacom-owned network, have a more complicated relationship with the public, particularly parents whose job it is to raise healthy kids. But now groups such as the Prevention Group, Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Berkeley Media Studies Group are teaming up with four Senators in an effort to convince Nickelodeon to stop running ads that market sugary, salty and greasy foods to kids and tweens.

Nickelodeon is in quite the PR pickle (the average pickle has about 29 calories). Nickelodeon is a for-profit business, but a business that must keep parents happy and position itself as an advocate of health instead of a platform for opportunistic capitalistic greed targeting innocent youngsters. For much of the public, the truth is in the middle. We love our children, and our children love Coco-Puffs. There is nothing new here, but the stakes are rising for Nickelodeon.

There must be a viable PR balance in there that Nickelodeon can strike, right? Should Nickelodeon ask parents to do a better job at controlling what their children eat, or should parents demand Nickelodeon do a better job of controlling the products the brand allows to be advertised on its network?

Either way, Nickelodeon has some important decisions to make. We’ll be paying close attention. So will moms and dads. And kids in their own way.