One day once the cigarette manufacturers had been kicked to the advertising curb, once the hard-liquor advertisers were banned from the networks and the fast-food barons had been cowed into offering salads (of all things!) they'd come for children's cereal. I just never thought it would happen so soon.
But there it is: The Kellogg Company announced last week that it will adopt nutritional standards for the foods it advertises to children.
Kellogg is promising that products it advertises to children aged six to twelve will not have more than 200 calories per serving. They will contain no trans fat and less than two grams of saturated fat per serving. Sugar content must be kept below 12 grams, sodium below 230 milligrams (except for Eggo Waffles).
More tangibly, this means that unless the cereals are reformulated using less sugar during the next eighteen months ads for Froot Loops, Apple Jacks and Pop-Tarts will be a relic of hedonistic 1990s.
Taking the initiative to protect our children from the company's sugar-laden products will no doubt play well for Kellogg. Then again, the company didn't really have a choice.
In 2005 Kraft Foods announced it would no longer advertise to children foods that did not meet certain nutritional standards. Walt Disney wasn't far behind last year when it announced that it would only allow advertising tie-ins with foods that met nutritional standards.
What's more, Kellogg's announcement comes after the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood threatened to sue the company for hawking its sugary goods to the little ones.
So, yes, Kellogg is to be congratulated for taking the initiative and offering healthier or at least not pushing unhealthy products. But let's also remember that these cereals' primary market is children. And that's a market in which an advertiser's success rises or falls on its ability to cultivate an appearance of apple-cheeked good will.
Be it through chummy Walt Disney characters or the promise that a cereal will help our children grow strong, we demand that the companies feeding our children appear to have the kids' best interests at heart and it would never do for Toucan Sam to beef up his nutritional bona fides only at the end of a lengthy litigation trail.
So, sure, it's smart business for Kellogg, but I imagine the makers of the Rainbow Treat I picked up a few weeks back at a convenience store in Cape Girardeau aren't nearly so excited. This Rice Krispies Treat-like brick of Froot Loops and marshmallows doesn't have any friendly parrot squawking its virtues. There is no tiger promising that it's grrrreat; there are no eponymous elves. Its sole advertisement is a yellow sticker boasting that it is "freshly made."
But really, who cares? This high-fructose-corn-syrup delivery device isn't ready for Saturday morning. Each Froot Loop's individual flavor is subsumed in the Rainbow Treat's overwhelmingly sharp, sweet smack. Biting into one of these things is sort of like draining a bottle of Karo syrup only with a Rainbow Treat you have to chew first, and its crispy marshmallow emissaries dig deep beneath the gum line.
I'm thinking that there is no way a Rainbow Treat would ever pass Kellogg's nutritional standards. Then again, I can't be sure of that: The Treatmakers don't supply us with their ware's nutritional information.
But with my teeth hurting and my tongue tired, I know bodily, that is that Rainbow Treat is rotten, and all the parrots, tigers and elves in the world could never tell me otherwise.