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Now here’s a novel corporate approach to warding off potential lawsuits and/or regulatory action. This week, General Mills Inc., the $11 billion-in-revenues purveyor of cereal and snack foods, launched a national ad campaign trumpeting the virtues of — of all things — sugar-laced breakfast cereals.
Industry watchers see the campaign as a preemptive strike. The new promotion, called “Choose Breakfast,” comes in the midst of a national debate about child obesity and the role of s’mores in ecological pyramids. That debate was initially touched off by educators, who in the mid-’90s began reporting a marked rise in the number of first-graders who required two mats for nap time.
In response, lawmakers in Washington (along with elected officials) began drafting a law aimed at protecting minors from predatory advertisers. But critics charged that because of language suggested by food-industry lobbyists — spelling, too — the bill would merely bar advertisers from targeting current and former members of the UMW.
The legislation never came to a vote. However, renewed threats from regulators — and continued criticism from Inside Voice, a group representing skittish pre-school teachers — have many cereal manufacturers rethinking their marketing for youngsters. Last year, for example, Kraft Foods Inc — maker of Cheese Whiz, Velveeta, and other non-food food products — stopped advertising some of its sweeter breakfast offerings on Pinky Leereruns.
And in a move apparently intended to head off truth-in-advertising lawsuits, management at industry giant Kellogg Co. recently revealed plans to scrap the company’s long-running campaign for it’s popular Apple Jack cereal. According to sources close to Kellogg’s (they live in East Battle Creek), a revised advertising slogan for Apple Jacks will state that “A is for partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil, J is for Yellow #6.” Says a lawyer for the company, who requested anonymity: “It doesn’t scan, but at least it’s not actionable.”