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As if it weren't hard enough to dissuade your children from billboards and television ads touting fast food, a new tactic has entered the ad world. Fast food chains in Australia have begun emailing free-food vouchers to kids under 12. But could it happen here?
This "direct mail" marketing campaign from Australia-based chains Hungry Jack and Taco Bill strategically bypasses parents with an online "Kids Club," where children can register to receive "free meals on their birthdays, vouchers for free ice cream" and finger puppets, reports The Daily Telegraph. And you'd better believe health organizations went after them.
Under the umbrella of The Obesity Policy Coalition, the prosecuting organizations include: The World Health Organization, Diabetes Australia, VicHealth and Cancer Council of Victoria. But when they called on the Federal Government "to amend the Privacy Act to outlaw direct mail advertising to children," the Feds said children were already protected by spam laws, reports the Telegraph.
Jane Martin, the coalition's senior public officer, believes no such thing. And, really, if that were true, wouldn't the chains stop sending the mail?
The U.S. has certainly had its share of battles against fast-food giants -- you may remember the days of kids'-meal toys? -- and the Child Nutrition bill has made a firm stand for what we deem appropriate for a young person's diet. But are there any actual U.S. laws protecting our kids from direct mailing?
In the 2008 piece penned by Susan Linn of The Charleston Gazette, "Does America Need Strong Laws to Fight Obesity? Yes," Linn cites a Florida-based campaign where school districts were sending "report cards home in envelopes advertising Happy Meals." This was a year after the big public push of 2007 to curtail the rising obesity epidemic, notes Linn, when the World Health Organization and the U.S. Institute of Medicine identified child-targeted marketing as a strong culprit and fast-food companies pledged to curb the approach.
As for online marketing, in 1998, the U.S. enacted The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which prohibits commercial sites from collecting personal information from children under 13 without parental consent. But as social media expands into Twitter "check-ins," children can automatically be tracked without their (or your) consent. So it's still a battlefield.
In 2010, it may be harder to sell a burger with a plastic superhero, but not much is stopping an ad from reaching your kid's in-box. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse issued a resource for parents to learn things like how to disable cookies (a company's means of tracking your child's clicks in order to tailor ads), but you might just have to sit them down and tell them why these companies are so desperate.