The power of promotion: advertising healthy eating to kids


Kids don’t often eat healthy foods. The temptations of snacks and sweets is powerful. The tactics major food companies use to promote their products exacerbates the problem. What if those same tactics were employed on behalf of vegetables?

A recent case study from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) describes using cartoon characters to advertise vegetables to kids. Here’s how the AAP tested using cartoon characters to promote vegetables, the same way characters like Tony the Tiger are used to promote breakfast cereals:

In a large urban school district, 10 elementary schools agreed to participate in the study. They were randomly assigned to a control condition or 1 of 3 treatment conditions: (1) a vinyl banner displaying vegetable characters that was fastened around the base of the salad bar; (2) short television segments with health education delivered by vegetable characters; or (3) a combination of the vinyl banner and television segments. We collected 22,206 student-day observations over a 6-week period by tallying the number of boys and girls taking vegetables from the school’s salad bar.

The results were stunning:

  • 90 percent more kids took vegetables from the salad bar when exposed to the banner
  • 240 percent more kids took vegetables from the salad bar when exposed to both the banner and the television segments
  • Girls and boys were equally impacted by the campaign

Many big consumer products companies, including food companies, do this sort of market research before committing large dollars to advertising campaigns. In my opinion and experience, many smaller companies, non-profits, and social agencies don’t do this sort of testing on their promotions.

This AAP case study shows it’s not particularly hard to conduct research on promotional methods. The benefits are great. You’ll know what works before you seek or commit funding to projects. Having hard data help convince funders that you’ve done your homework and are ready to make a measurable impact.

Social and public organizations often must go to great lengths to prove the viability of their approach and projects. Funders sometimes expect a burden of statistical proof that many projects in the private sector don’t need to meet. This goes double for promotional efforts at social and public organizations. The good news is, it can be done.


(Image courtesy of Super Sprowtz)

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