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12/02/2010 19:46:00

Coco Pops 4 Life?


Let's face it, it's not exactly new to find an advert targetting a group of people who would be magnetically drawn to the product, but are least well equipped to cope with it. Advertising consolidation loans, IVAs and cash for gold in the ad breaks for Jeremy Kyle, for example. A match made in heaven for the financiers skimming massive slices off the top, but for the financially-drowning viewers? Not so much. Slick commercials for cosmetic surgery in the ads for diet and fitness shows - No willpower? No problem. But Kelloggs latest Coco-Pops campaign has fallen so far south of the cynical-o-meter that it has attracted a degree of wrath it probably didn't expect.


I need to say straight up that I am irrationally fond of Kelloggs. I grew up with a lot of their products, I shared that weird misconception lots of Brits of my generation do that their products are somehow 'British', even though the company is, of course, based in Michigan. I can still remember when I first ate Coco-Pops and I am very fond of their Sultana Bran too.


But I am also a mom, and I know that Coco-Pops is not exactly the cornerstone of a nutritious diet. It is a fun cereal, and like a lot of products in its class, should be seen as an occasional treat. In our house the kids get to eat them when we go camping, in those tiny little cereal boxes which seem to make everything taste better. Chocolately they may be, complex carbohydrates they aint.


There was a moment a couple of years ago when it became apparent from the changes in slant of Coco-Pops adverts that the suggestion that they could be part of a nutritious breakfast was wearing a bit thin. A bowl of Coco Pops comprises more than 35% sugar and was voted in a parents jury as the children's breakfast cereal that children most want to eat, but which parents would prefer that they didn't. With official NHS statistics recording 10% of Reception age children as obese, and this proportion rising to 18% by the time they reach Year 6, the pressure on companies like Kelloggs to be more responsible about the way they market to children is justifiably high.


But recently Kelloggs have obviously decided that they will do better to not only give up the 'nutritious breakfast' slant, but bypass the breakfast argument altogether in favour of pitching Coco Pops as an after school snack. This is not in itself illegal or unethical, but when you consider that Kelloggs are a partner in the Change 4 Life programme, which focuses heavily on reducing children's intake of fat and sugar, it leaves a less than sweet taste in the mouth.


It was the new billboards that sent children's food campaigners over the edge. These posters appeared a couple of weeks ago on bus shelters on the way to and from schools.

Campaigners are offended because Coco Pops' sugar and fat levels would preclude it from being served in schools yet the billboards focus on children going TO school and suggest they eat them AFTER school.

One of Change 4 Life's major tactics is to help parents to find 'snack swaps' - lower sugar alternatives to favourite but unhealthy foods. Kelloggs argue that a 30g bowl of Coco Pops with milk has less sugar than 2 pieces of toast with jam or an average children's fruit yoghurt. But these foods would also be considered high in sugar and would be targeted for a food swap themselves. Not to mention the fact that I have never seen anyone eat a 30g bowl of cereal and feel satisfied enough to stop eating, let alone a hungry growing primary aged child coming home with the after school empties.




The billboards have attracted more attention than they might usually because it fell foul of the growing number of children's food campaigners, nutritionists and foodie parents on Twitter. Within hours of twitterer @jackieschneider posting a photo of the billboard outside her local school, a flurry of tweets had condemned the tactic.


The Children's Food Campaign at Sustain have come up with an unusual repost. They have created a webpage where you can add your own slogan to a Coco Pops billboard. So if you have ever been cross about junk food marketing at children, or just consider yourself a jingle writer in waiting, try your hand at your own slogan here.


What do you think? Is it an over-reaction? Or is Kelloggs being hypocritical here? And if you're really cross, you can email Kelloggs at



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