I Wanna Go THERE!

Foodie Friday, and today we’re going to vary from the usual routine.  Most Fridays, I rant about some dish or bit of cooking trivia and attempt to relate it to your business.  This week I want us to have a think about some information I read about the food business and how it markets itself to children.  After all, what better way to get a family into your dining establishment than to have a kid demanding to go!

The folks at Media Post reported on a study by the folks at Packaged Facts, which does research in the food, beverage, consumer packaged goods, and demographic sectors.  The study, called Foodservice Marketing Trends in the U.S.: Technology, Mobile, and Social Media, examines how restaurants and others in the food service industry can grow their businesses based on the trends uncovered by the study.  So far, so good.  It’s what they put in the press release that concerns me:

The family demographic is important for restaurant marketers to target. Almost inherently, acceptance by kids strongly influences parent choice in where to dine and parties with kids aged 12 and younger account for almost $18 billion in annual restaurant spending. However, it’s often easy to overlook kids as vital consumers of digital marketing. Successful modern day restaurant strategies often leverage digital entertainment to increase brand engagement with kids.

It goes on to talk about what several firms are doing to market themselves to kids in order to have the kids ask the parents to take them to the dining establishment.  These activities include downloadable apps using a QR code on the menu, branded tabletop games (which cost the adults money so the kids can play – no pressure there), and the ability for kids to upload things they color or make to their Facebook pages – guess no one told the restaurants that kids under 13 aren’t supposed to have a Facebook page.

My real concern is that there are a number of laws that have been put in place to protect kids.  There is something called CARU – the Children’s Advertising Review Unit – that works with the marketing community to protect kids.  It issues guidelines.  There is also COPPA, which is a law that protects kids’ online privacy.  I couldn’t find any specific guidelines for mobile, but I wonder if the general online guidelines are being followed.  These include:

  • Reasonable efforts, using all available technology, should be made to establish full disclosure and choice exercised by a parent or guardian when a site wishes to obtain personally identifiable information from children for marketing purposes.
  • Advertisers who maintain children’s sites should not knowingly link their sites to pages of other sites not in compliance with CARU’s guidelines.
  • Advertisers who communicate with children via e-mail should remind and encourage parents to regularly monitor their children’s e-mail and online activities.
  • Information collected for the purpose of obtaining verifiable parental consent should not be kept in retrievable form by the site if consent is not received in a reasonable amount of time.

In other words, just because kids are a good set of influencers, the food industry – and all of us in other industries as well – have some rules that we ought to follow.  In the rush to grow sales, it’s never a great idea to grow legal liability at the same time.  Marketing to kids is tricky business, and I wonder if the people who focus on that target are as focused on the laws and guidelines that apply here.

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