Cue student junk food withdrawals

By Matt Gillis

Advertising to children has always been a point of controversy in the marketing industry. Consumers under the age of 18 are more susceptible to the manipulative and persuasive nature of advertisements. Previously, most of those advertisements in question dealt with sexualizing women, portraying unattainable standards of beauty or promoting alcohol or drug use. However, a category of brands that has traditionally banked on the sale of their products to young consumers has recently been added to the controversial list of those not allowed to advertise to children.

As part of her Let’s Move! initiative to solve the challenge of childhood obesity facing the United States, first lady Michelle Obama proposed Wednesday to ban the advertisement of sugary snacks and drinks on school campuses for later this year. If put into effect, the proposal would ban companies including Pepsi and Coca-Cola from advertising their “unhealthy” products on school grounds via vending machines or cafeterias. Company logos used as sponsorship of school scoreboards or event programs would also be banned under the proposed plan.

Obama believes the initiative, which comes in celebration of Let’s Move!’s fourth anniversary, will sustain the work parents are doing at home to promote healthy eating. “Our classrooms should be healthy places where kids are not bombarded with ads for junk food,” she said. “[Parents’] good efforts shouldn’t be undermined when they send their kids off to school.”

Michelle Obama junk food announcement

The American Beverage Association, which is led in part by Pepsi and Coca-Cola, surprisingly supports Obama’s proposal. The backing from the two soda companies may stem from their production of healthier drinks including bottled water, which would still be allowed for promotion in schools once the ban is initiated.

From an advertising perspective, this ban is a major challenge for companies selling “unhealthy” products. With children being the number one consumers of sugary snacks and beverages, this proposal has the potential to put several of the companies selling these products at risk.

Pepsi and Coca-Cola will have to put more effort into developing healthier beverage options in order to compete with companies that have the right to advertise to students in school, an environment these younger consumers spend the majority of their day in for five days a week. With companies spending over 149 million dollars a year on advertising in schools, losing this advertising platform will require these companies to develop creative solutions to make up for the lost brand exposure.

I guess the saving grace for these companies is that younger consumers are almost always digitally connected. This gives companies the ability to advertise to children via online platforms, which they are usually connected to throughout the day while at school, and inadvertently make the junk food advertising ban pointless.

Reference list:

–       Associated Press. (2014, February 25). Michelle Obama announces new rules for advertising junk food at schools. NY Daily News. Retrieved February 27, 2014, from

–       Let’s Move!. (2014). Learn The Facts. Retrieved February 27, 2014, from

–       People. (2014, February 26). Michelle Obama proposes ban on junk food advertising in schools. People. Retrieved February 27, 2014, from

One thought on “Cue student junk food withdrawals

  1. While I agree that unhealthy drinks and snacks shouldn’t be sold or advertised in school I think banning the logo of these companies such as Coke or Pepsi is a step too far. It’s true that Coke sells soft drinks but they also have a number of other healthier options. I think that banning ads for Coca-Cola itself should be implements but banning the general logos for these brands is too far.


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