Big Brother v.s. Childhood Obesity

original big brother poster available at
original big brother poster available at

Yesterday in Quebec, Saputo Inc, makers of Vachon snack cakes, pled guilty to 22 charges under a provincial law that prohibits advertising at children under the age of 13.

The company was fined $44,000 for a 2007 marketing campaign that involved distributing Igor cakes and merchandise in daycare centers.

So, what exactly did Saputo/Vachon/Igor do wrong?

igor-vachon-cakeIn 1997, they contracted  P2P Proximité Marketing to promote Igor and his tasty cakes.

And how did they promote these taste treat sensations?

  • They designed a cartoon mascot to represent the product. Nothing new here…does anyone remember Count Chocula, Toucan Sam, the Lucky Charms leprechaun, etc…

They also created a promotional package that included:

  • A Dance Igor CD
  • An Igor story booklet promoting good nutrition and physical activity
  • Igor stickers
  • 2 Igor cakes, and
  • A bunch of Igor coupons

And then they distributed these Igor promo packages to DAY CARE centers all across Quebec.

Provincially funded day care centers.

They also gave 20 day care participants a group outing of their choice worth $3000.

igor-vachon-saputoAnd they weren’t done yet.

In their attempt to encourage physical activity and healthy eating amongst their potential customers, they created:

  • a website (taken down post verdict),
  • a poster highlighting Igor’s b-boy dance moves, and
  • a dance video designed to help the little kiddies burn off all of that sugar from their post nap-time Igor cake binge.

And  just to put the proverbial icing on the cake, the day-cares had also been told that this program would improve the children’s fitness as they would learn to do the Igor dance.

But this isn’t too surprising when you consider that “the cakes themselves, which were shaped like a gorilla and had strawberry, chocolate or vanilla filling, were billed by the company as “a delicious and nutritious snack” when combined with fruit and milk”.

So, how did this end up in the court room?

Soon after the marketing campaign was launched, Suzie Pellerin, director of an anti-obesity group called Coalition Poids, joined with the Union des consommateurs to file the complaint against Saputo.

After yesterday’s decision, Ms. Pellerin was quoted as saying; “This is a victory for children, considering the impact of junk food on child health.”

Ms. Pellerin said she hopes the charges against Saputo will send a message to other companies. “Using children to sell products goes against the law,” she said. “Since we cannot act on the content of food offered to children, we can at least reduce their exposure to this advertising.”

Her group was also instrumental in prompting the charges against McDonald’s, Burger King and General Mills, expected to go to court this year.

McDonald’s is facing nine charges related to its sponsorship of a series of children’s movies broadcast on Tele-Quebec during the Christmas holidays.

General Mills faces one charge for its Lucky Charms web site, where children can play games featuring Lucky the Leprechaun.

Burger King faces 11 charges stemming from the distribution of toys with their kids’ meals.

Regarding the Burger King complaint, Ms Pellerin said that, “these collectible toys are a form of advertising that encourages children to increase their visits to Burger King restaurants and demand the meal needed to obtain these toys,” the Coalition Poids stated when its complaint was filed in December, 2007.

Okay, hold the phone for just one minute.

We’re talking about little kids here, right?

Little kids demanding junk food and toys.

This is supposed to be surprising? That kids like junk food and crappy fast food restaurant toys???

And where are their parents?

I would have assumed that it’s the parents who actually purchase the junk food.

Are we supposed to believe that these kids are stealing their parent’s SUV, driving down to Burger King and demanding their kiddie meal toys from the pimply faced drive-thru kid?

And how are those kids planning on paying for that kiddie meal?

They don’t have jobs.

You don’t think that they would resort to violence do you?

lord-of-the-fliesIt sounds just like Lord of the Flies.

Except that, instead of a bunch of half-starved savages, Igor and the Saputo gang have created a bunch of overweight, sugar addicted 5 year olds running around holding up fast food restaurants for their kiddie meal toys.

What is this world coming to???

The next thing that you’re going to tell me is that the people who launched this lawsuit aren’t doing this out of the goodness of their hearts and the righteousness of their cause.

That they are in the business of going after bad guys who sell junk food, alcohol and cigarettes.

That they stand to get promotions and increased government funding because of their highly publicized win against Saputo/Vachon.

Damn it!!!

Now I don’t know who to cheer for.


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original National Post article


  1. wow, that is just crazy. I agree, it’s the parents that are buying the crap. Even though the Igor cake was a poor nutritional choice the company at least made some efforts to encourage the kids to be active and practice good nutrition.

  2. This is starting to get a little nuts.

    Personally, I like the idea of restaurants having to post nutritional info on their menus. And advertising junk food to kids is not really much different from advertising tobacco or alcohol to kids.

    However, advocates of the nanny state see each victory as an endorsement of their beliefs and continue to push their agenda and chip away at our civil liberties.

    Up here in Toronto, it is now illegal to smoke a cigarette within nine metres or 30 feet of municipal playgrounds, zoos, splash pads or wading pools. Never mind that they passed this legislation in the dead of winter.

    It started with a smoking ban in restaurants, bars and other public spaces. Then, they passed a law banning smoking in cars with children. Now it’s the playground ban.

    But, it’s all common sense, right? We have to look out for the children, right?

    Up next, a vote to ban smoking altogether…wait and see.

  3. I have to go with the verdict on this one. I’m a little more sketchy on the details of the McDonalds etc… but this one very clearly crossed a line by directing a full on marketing campaign at toddlers who would have the products distributed to them by a provincially funded day-care. They tried to manipulate the day care by providing not only the low on (no) nutrition snack, but also accompanied it with activity resources which any day care continuously needs to update.

    As for the smoking ban, I’m a big fan of the ban in restaurants. I still see it as the main reason I quit. There are not too many other jobs you get in early university that are not bar or restaurant jobs and when smoking was allowed it was as common to tip in cigarettes as in cash in many places. Taking the smokes outside was a big factor in my quitting, and many of the people I worked with.

    There’s a libertarian in me, but generally I do believe in balance. Non-smokers have a right to be able to enjoy bars as much as smokers and if I had kids I’d want to know that my daycare was getting it’s activity materials from a non-junk-food source.

  4. The fines dont matter here. The kids have already had their taste of the food and will eat it for many years.

    Smoking bans in places of food are fine, but with the anti-smoking group, give them an inch and they want a mile. Enough is enough with that. Plus I just read another article here that the US spent more on obesity related disease than cancer, twice as much. So who needs to be outlawed.

  5. Do you think that a $5 can of Coke would cause a decrease in consumption…or a $10 Big Mac or a $8 bag of potato chips?

    The only research I have seen shows that small taxes result in little behavior mod (but lots of extra tax dollars)
    Big tax hikes impact behavior

    Personally I find this sort of big brother activity repugnant, but it’s nothing new – seat belts, taxes on booze & smokes, helmet laws, etc…

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