The Worldwide Dessert Contest: Enhanced Multimedia Edition

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But the extensive array of convenience and pre-packaged foods high in fat, sugar and salt so called junk foods which are increasingly available across the world, often promoted in large or multiple serving sizes, has made eating healthily a challenge—for individuals personally, and for policymakers indirectly.

This paper considers some of the available evidence relating to the influence of the various forms of advertising in general, their influence on children and on consumption habits. It considers also arguments which maintain that junk food can be part of a balanced diet and that the food, non-alcoholic drink and advertising industries can be entrusted to market these types of products responsibly without the intervention of government, or with minimal government intervention.

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In particular, the paper notes recent Australian Government approaches to dealing with this issue and the stance taken in favour of advertising regulation by the Australian Greens. The paper concludes that overall, the Australian response has been cautious in relation to calls for more action to deal with obesity and its concomitant health problems. Arguments that the junk food industry voluntarily and responsibly limits the exposure of children to excessively manipulative promotion of its products appear to have been successful in maintaining a largely self- regulatory environment in Australia.

This is despite the findings of national and international studies that indicate more action may need to be taken, and the imposition of various bans and taxes in other countries. There is a significant body of academic work which discusses the ways in which advertising influences behaviour. Essentially, this work can be divided into two types of critique. The first group of studies examines advertising at the micro level by considering the ways in which it seeks to persuade or manipulate consumers. The second group of studies takes a societal view in examining ways in which advertising, and the mass media overall, may help to concentrate economic and cultural power in the hands of a few corporations and individuals.

These meanings in turn, shape consciousness and behaviour subtly by sanctioning some forms of thought and behaviour while de-legitimising others. Advertisements in fact place less emphasis on communicating specific product information and more on communicating the social and symbolic uses of products.

Effectively, this means that in a consumer-oriented society, people define themselves as consumers and they are persuaded that they gain a fundamental gratification from consumption. So advertisers generate systems of meaning, prestige and identity by associating their products with certain life-styles, symbolic values and pleasures.

What this amounts to is a situation where advertising works to affect purchasing in a variety of subtle ways, as is illustrated in the box below. Subtle effect of advertising. The subtle influence of advertising works in a variety of ways, such as those shown below:. Another perspective on advertising is advanced by renowned media critic, Ben Bagdikian. Bagdikian argues that program content is changed and shaped based on the demographics of audiences so that it becomes less important than the type of person being targeted by advertising during programs.

The television programs Big Brother and Survivor can be cited as examples. In briefly tracing the history of advertising in magazines Bagdikian suggests that this practice has been commonplace for some time:. The influence of advertising on magazines reached a point where editors began selecting articles not only on the basis of their expected interest for readers but for their influence on advertisements.

Serious articles were not always the best support for ads. An article that put the reader in an analytical frame of mind did not encourage the reader to take seriously an ad that depended on fantasy or promoted a trivial product. The next step, seen often in mid-twentieth century magazines, was commissioning articles solely to attract readers who were good prospects to buy products advertised in the magazine.

After that came the magazine phenomenon of the s — creating magazines for an identifiable special audience and selling them to particular advertisers. There are a number of other means which advertisers use to persuade and influence purchasing choice. These include advertorials or infomercials, which are advertisements presented as legitimate news or articles. Some further examples are noted in Box 2 below. Advertising strategies.

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Back to top. It was unusual for children to be targeted by advertisers until television became commonplace in homes during the twentieth century. In recent times, as more people have added subscription television to their entertainment fare, more opportunities have been created to market products to children on channels, such as Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network, which deliver children-specific programming. The Internet has provided even more opportunity through websites which feature content aimed at children.

Advergames are advertiser-sponsored video games which embed brand messages in colourful, fun, fast-paced adventures which are created by companies for the explicit purpose of promoting their brands. More disposable income is now available to many families, and consequently, parents appear more willing to buy goods for their children than in the past. This may be the result of a combination of factors, including smaller family size, people postponing having children until later in life and the fact that there are more dual income families.

Whatever the cause, the result is that children and young people are now an important demographic for advertisers. This is because they not only influence their parents' buying decisions, but they are also the adult consumers of the future.

The ‘pinnacle’ of food: Callery’s uses science to reformulate ice cream into a guilt-free pleasure

In marketing to children, advertisers have encouraged the phenomenon of what has been labelled pester power. This has been defined as the constant demand for parents to purchase items, be they clothes, toys, gadgets or various other goods as the illustration below shows. Importance nagging represents a more sophisticated means by which children claim that something is necessary for their educational or sporting progress, or for their general well being.

According to the American Centre for Science in the Public Interest, pestering strategies undermine parental authority. Source: Center for Science in the Public Interest [21]. Additionally, advertisers attempt to address children as consumers in their own right and so develop strategies to build brand awareness and purchasing habits. One advertiser claims this is not as difficult as it would seem:. This is in spite of the fact that, as the American Psychological Association points out, children do not display the two characteristics needed for mature assessment of advertising:.

Children must acquire two key information-processing skills in order to achieve mature comprehension of advertising messages. First, they must be able to discriminate at a perceptual level commercial from non commercial content; and second, they must be able to attribute persuasive intent to advertising and to apply a degree of skepticism [sic] to their interpretation of advertising messages consistent with that knowledge. Each of these capabilities develops over time as a function of cognitive growth and intellectual development.

There are various pieces of advice given to parents about ways in which they can counter advertising strategies. These include e ducating children to understand that the main goal of advertising is to make them buy things—often things they do not need and did not know they wanted until they have seen advertisements—and encouraging children to challenge advertisers' claims about their products.

A number of studies have concluded that advertising to children has produced disturbing results. One study revealed that by the age of two, children may have beliefs about specific brands.

The ‘pinnacle’ of food: Callery’s uses science to reformulate ice cream into a guilt-free pleasure

T wo to six year olds can recognise familiar brand names, packaging, logos and characters and associate them with products, especially if the brands use salient features such as bright colours, pictures and cartoon characters. By middle childhood, most children can name multiple brands of child-oriented products. Even among very young children, this awareness and recognition has been found to translate to nagging for specific product names and brands. An increasing number of overseas findings agree that television commercials for sweets, snacks and fast food are the mainstays of advertising which targets children.

None of this time includes advertisements for fruit or vegetables. Many advertisements associate physical activity with the products and highlight the health benefits to be gained from their consumption. In other words:.

“The Worldwide Dessert Contest: Enhanced Multimedia Edition”

There is evidence that advertising unhealthy foods to children influences not only which brands [children] choose, but the overall balance of their diet, encouraging them to eat energy-dense salty, sugary or fatty foods in place of those which are more nutritious and wholesome. Results indicated that children were significantly more likely to prefer the taste of low-nutrient, high-energy foods when a cartoon character appeared on the package. While this was the case with healthier foods it was not as conclusive. Obesity needs company? Source: Prospect [33]. Considerable research has been conducted in Australia which complements that undertaken overseas.

The Coalition on Food Advertising to Children concluded in Children and youth represent a primary focus of food and beverage marketing initiatives. Food companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing and advertising, in order to maintain and increase market share. In recent decades there has been a marked increase in spending on food marketing.

Television viewing promotes sedentary behaviour and has been demonstrated to influence general food consumption patterns and enhance consumption of snack foods. The ADGP found it disturbing that no contrasting healthy eating messages were promoted on television.

Source: Australian Divisions of General Practice [39]. Further, many case studies revealed carefully worded policies and statements that aim to assure the Australian public that marketing activities engaged in by our food companies are thoughtful and responsible. This is despite all companies engaging in the use of marketing tricks and strategies targeted at influencing the food beliefs, attitudes and preferences of children and teenagers — suggesting that the policies represent more of an interest in being seen to do the right thing rather than a genuine commitment to improve their marketing practices.

Snack bars from this manufacturer are too high in sugar and fat, particularly saturated fat. While the makers of these bars mostly claim they have a fat content of less than ten per cent, a large amount of that fat is saturated and some trans fats may also be included. Sugar is the second ingredient in all of the snack bars and the fibre content is very low. Source: Australian Cancer Council [44]. There are a number of arguments advanced against banning the advertising of certain products, such as alcohol and junk food. Advertising is, at its core, just the simple delivery of information.

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Those who oppose it are essentially arguing that this information is too challenging for individuals to process safely; that, if told the wrong thing, they will be unable to resist self-harm. In other words, according to this view, people of all ages are able to form opinions about the merits of products advertised and make decisions, which they calculate are in their best interests, in relation to what they consume. Advertising in fact:. We may, after having watched an ad, have a different idea of what our next purchase may be.

But that isn't because we have been manipulated by a ruthless marketing department. With reference to children, this type of argument can be manipulated to portray children as responsible consumers. As in the case of adults, the relevant literature shows that children are not a passive advertisement audience, that they do not fall for everything that comes out of the TV screen, and are instead able to nurture opinions and preferences about the specific commercial they are watching. More specifically, a study shows that children as young as eleven display a large degree of scepticism about the contents of selected advertising campaigns.

Some of the industry arguments which support continuing junk food advertising and public health responses to those arguments can be seen in the table included in this section. A selection of these arguments is discussed in more depth in the section. One aspect of the responsible marketing and consumption argument is that, unlike tobacco, junk foods can be enjoyed in moderation without causing undue harm to children or adults. The Cadbury Company maintains, for example, that its products can be enjoyed as treats and as part of a balanced diet.

Cadbury states:. We are proud of our brands. They provide fun and enjoyment as treats or refreshment, and are valued for their functional benefits. They can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet and lifestyle. We provide choice by offering variety and through innovation.