Marketing by the Other Mouse
Guest Post by Margo G. Wootan, D.Sc. and Jennifer Eder, M.P.H. of the Center for Science in the Public Interest
If you have kids, it’s likely that you’ve gone to a Chuck E. Cheese’s. Kids might be entertained by the games, rides, and prizes—but the food there is a nutritional nightmare. A typical meal at Chuck E. Cheese’s can provide more than ¾ of a child’s daily calories and a whole day’s sodium!
Chuck E. Cheese’s uses the games, birthday parties, and Chuck E. (the company’s brand mascot) to entice children to eat junk. In a sample of children’s television programming in 2012, Chuck E. Cheese’s advertised on Nickelodeon, NBC, PBS, Univision, and the Hub. All but one of the food ads during children’s programming on PBS and NBC and more than half of those on Univision were for Chuck E. Cheese’s.
Last year, Chuck E. Cheese’s pizza was promoted in the Thanksgiving-themed kids’ movie, Free Birds. Chuck E. Cheese’s pizza replaced turkey on the annual holiday menu. Their mascot, Chuck E., appears on packages of Chuck E. Cheese’s-brand string cheese, shredded cheese, and yogurt squeezes, as well as Tyson’s Cheesy Chicken Nuggets.
Chuck E. Cheese’s website features rewards calendars to bribe kids to do their homework or clean their room and then reward them with free tokens at Chuck E. Cheese’s. It has lots of games and activities featuring its mouse mascot, including downloadable songs, ringtones, and wallpaper.
Chuck E. Cheese’s also markets to children through schools, children’s charities, youth groups, and youth scouts. As part of its school fundraising nights, the school is given branded promotional materials, and Chuck E. can visit the school during the school day. Teachers who attend the event receive a free meal, and 15% of sales go to the school. While schools need funds, the modest amount of money raised for schools is more than offset by the harm done to children’s diets and health, and there are healthier ways to raise funds for schools.
Although Chuck E. Cheese’s claims to “bring families together in a wholesome environment for fun, games and kids,” the food choices on the menu are far from wholesome. Chuck E. Cheese’s makes it harder for parents to feed their kids healthfully. Given that Chuck E. Cheese’s is one of the top 100 restaurants in the U.S. and the ninth largest pizza chain, Chuck E. Cheese’s should do more to support parents’ efforts to feed children healthfully. If Chuck E. Cheese’s really wants to provide a wholesome environment for kids, the company should add healthy options to the menu and stop marketing junk food to kids.
Wouldn’t it be great if Chuck E. Cheese’s used their brand mascot, market research, and sophisticated marketing techniques to market healthy food to kids alongside the family fun? If you agree, please tweet at Chuck E. Cheese’s and ask them to adopt a food marketing to kids policy and offer some healthy options. Here’s a model tweet:
.@chuckecheese: If u really want to be a wholesome environment for kids, add healthy menu options & stop marketing junk #gethealthychucke
Ladydee’s note: I’m delighted to be joining the Center for Science in the Public Interest to tell Chuck E. Cheese’s ENOUGH with the awful marketing and the low nutritional standards in their restaurants. You can read more about the poor quality of their menus here.