CSPI had threatened Kellogg with a lawsuit in Massachusetts, thereby pushing the cereal company toward self-regulation. "It's conceivable that will be the end of those products, as they're pretty dependent on advertising to 'educate' each new generation of kids," Jacobson says, suggesting that the extinction of certain unhealthy food brands isn't a loss. "For other products, they may reformulate."
Kellogg is only the first victory in CSPI's ongoing war.
The organization is prepared to bring lawsuits against other major food advertisers, including Kellogg's 10 colleagues in the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, if they don't present satisfactory self-regulatory policies at an upcoming FTC meeting July 18.
"There certainly is that possibility," Jacobson warns. He's taking a wait-and-see approach to determine how companies handle specific nutrient criteria, as well as their use of cartoon characters, product placement, toys "and other things of that nature."
Broadly speaking, Jacobson was optimistic. "We hope other companies are going to be adopting guidelines that are at least as healthy as Kellogg."
The head of the powerful Washington D.C.-based advocacy and lobbying group praised the Kellogg's move, noting: "It's very significant, as it's the first time a company has agreed to limits concerning the nutritional qualities of the foods it advertises to kids, and the manner in which it advertises to kids."
According to the terms of the Kellogg's agreement, its under-12 advertising will be limited to foods that have no more than 200 calories per serving, as well as no trans fat and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat.
Affected brands include Kellogg mainstays like Rice Krispies (too much sodium) Froot Loops (too much sugar) and Pop Tarts (sugar again).
In addition to limiting TV advertising, Kellogg will revamp its Web presence dramatically, including "limiting depictions of foods that don't meet our nutrient criteria in interactive activities, like games, downloads and wallpaper," the company said in an official statement. It added that "wherever possible, implementation of Kellogg commitments will begin immediately."
The new, stricter self-regulation goes beyond the voluntary standards adopted by the members of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative at the behest of the Children's Advertising Review Unit in November 2006.
In an earlier interview, Jacobson dismissed the voluntary standards as "pathetically weak," adding that "self-regulation simply doesn't work to protect kids from junk food marketing."
CSPI threatened to bring a lawsuit against Kellogg in January 2006 under a Massachusetts law against junk-food advertising. The two sides have spent the last 15 months in negotiations aiming to avoid this outcome. Kellogg's recent announcement is the effective settlement of the dispute.
Meanwhile, Jeff Chester, founder and executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, was skeptical about some of the online measures proposed by Kellogg, including "automatic screen-time limits" intended to limit interaction with online messaging.
While Chester conceded that "all the details aren't public yet," he added "I don't think it's acceptable for them to say that the marketing message is safe for kids just because it clocks off after 15 minutes or something like that. In the age of mobisodes, 30 seconds is plenty of time to get your message across."
Chester also noted the need to protect teens as well as pre-teens, saying CDD will push the FTC to adopt rules to that effect at the July 18 meeting.
For one thing, "the demographic lines with these younger generations have grown increasingly fuzzy. What's marketed to 16-year-olds today, companies know also attract 8, 9, and 10-year-olds."
Last month, the CDD issued a report calling digital marketing to youth a contributing factor in the fight against childhood obesity.