Pop Rocks: A Discussion of Children's Culture and Candy Consumption
Don’t adults like candy too?
As stated earlier, children do not dominate the entire candy market. Adults comprise a large portion of the candy market, and especially consume chocolate and mint confections. PEZ candy, originally mint flavored but now a fruity compacted sugar brick, is an example which marks the intersection of adult and child candy.
Adults and children alike enjoy PEZ, which was originally marketed to adults as an alternative to smoking. It was invented in 1927 by an Austrian food company executive, Edward Haas III. The original candy came in small tins and was basically a compressed sugar tablet flavored with peppermint oil. The name PEZ came from the first, middle, and last letters of the word for peppermint: PfeffErminZ. In 1948, the company introduced the first PEZ dispenser, designed to resemble a cigarette lighter, and in 1952 the company introduced character heads and fruit-flavored candy to appeal to children.
PEZ marks the intersection between adult and child candy because of its transition in flavor and packaging. As a mint flavored candy, it was more suited for adults, but as PEZ transitioned, into a fruity confection inside a cartoon, toy-like dispenser, rather than a tin, PEZ became a food more appropriate for children. While some adults are hooked on PEZ (an addiction which may be completely unrelated to smoking), eating PEZ is still passable for adults and not marked as “for children only.” PEZ can be consumed without the cartoon dispenser, which is an obvious marker of a children’s product, and even if an adult were to use a dispenser, he could justify it as a collector’s item. People all over the world search for, collect, and display their PEZ dispensers, and some even travel the country to attend national PEZ conventions. An adult PEZ aficionado, just as an adult toy collector, can maintain his adult status and distance himself from children by calling his PEZ collection “vintage.”
Why Market to Children?
Children present an excellent target market for three reasons. Children have money of their own to spend, children influence family spending, and children are open to advertising campaigns designed to make them future customers.
Children are a real market force. Research from the University of George estimates that in 1998, US children spent $4.1 billion a year. And when they’re not spending their own money, marketers count on them influencing how Mom and Dad spend. What marketers count on is what Stan and Jan Berenstain termed “the gimmies” in one book in their popular series titled, The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies. In this story, Brother and Sister Bear first request, then pester, and finally throw tantrums in order to convince Mama Bear and Papa Bear to buy certain products. Parents experiencing similar circumstances started to steer clear of the cookie and candy aisle in supermarkets in order to avoid similar problems, but “to counter the maneuver, [the] cookie manufacturer client began securing strategic adjacencies – with appropriate aisle partners (cookies on one side of the aisle and baby food on the other, for example) and better freestanding and endcap displays” (Underhill 144). Even in my own hometown, I have noticed the supermarket layout has been reconfigured to place cereal and candy in the same aisle, and as always, store owners try to ensure products intended to entice children are put at their eye level.
Children are targeted even before they get to the supermarket by commercials, billboards, and window displays. Marketers have done a good job adjusting advertisements and slogans for products more often consumed by children to more directly target children. For example, the advertisement for Tootsie Pops, a hard fruity candy lollipop with a gooey or chewy core, is represented by a cartoon owl who wonders, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?” Licking a Tootsie Pop, and counting the number of licks, is an activity designed for a child with time to spare. Like fishing (most often a young boy’s and an old man’s sport), counting the licks to the center of a lollipop requires long periods of leisure time, something more suited for children than adults. On the other hand, commercials for Mentos, a mint candy, shows adults getting themselves out of ridiculous situations using intelligence and quick thinking. As “the fresh maker,” Mentos appeal more to adults because adults rather than cartoons are featured in the commercials, and situations like sitting in wet paint before a business meeting, or getting trapped in a parallel parking spot because the car in front and behind one’s car parked too closely are more relatable to an adult than a cartoon pondering the exact number of licks it will take to finish a piece of candy. Still, advertising need not be stratified or exclusively directed to children or adults. For example, a slogan like, “there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s” is all embracing, emphasizing everyone can eat Reese’s and everyone will be eating them correctly because there is no wrong way.
A need for marketing guidelines?
Recent concerns about childhood obesity have prompted legislation proposals to prohibit advertising junk foods to children. Although this is a debate too broad to be adequately addressed in this paper, I briefly note it here because the legislation and debate will influence future candy marketing and consumption. Even Sesame Street has taken action in the wake of the obesity epidemic, kicking off its 36th season with a multiyear story arc about healthy habits. And surprisingly, Cookie Monster has a new song. He’s replaced “C is for Cookie” with “A Cookie Is a Sometimes Food,” learning that there are anytime foods and sometimes foods (AP). Although die-hard Cookie Monster fans might be shocked at his new diet, they may not have to fear that Cookie Monster has given up cookies forever. Cookie Monster ends the song with the question, “Is sometimes now?” “Yes,” he’s told.
Still, the concern about marketing to children is real. Marketers often employ child psychologists to target children more directly. And when targeting children for high calorie, low nutrition foods, in the face of a childhood obesity epidemic, one may consider these practices unethical and in need of regulation.
To Jerry Seinfeld, there is no question candy defines a child’s world. He would argue a child’s life and mind revolves around candy. In his stand-up performance, “I’m Telling You for the Last Time,” Seinfeld admits, “candy, that’s all I ate when I was a kid. The only thought I had, growing up, was ‘get… candy.’ That was my only thought, in my brain, for the first ten years of human life. Just get candy, get candy, get candy, get candy, get candy, get candy. Family, friends, school, these were just obstacles in the way of getting more candy.” And he recalls first hearing about Halloween, his brain not even being able to handle the concept, “What’s this?! Who’s giving out candy, someone’s giving out candy?! Who is giving out this candy?! Everyone that we know is just giving out candy?!!! I gotta be a part of this, take me with you, I wanna do it, I’ll do anything they want! .…I can wear that. I’ll wear anything that I have to wear. I’ll do anything I have to do. I will get the candy from those fools… that are so stupidly giving it away.”
Today, pop rocks may be hard to find in stores, but the novelty candy industry is continuing to boom. Although there is the possibility for drastic changes with increased concern over childhood obesity, and the push for more food and advertising regulation, pop rocks, and other kets, fad, and novelty candy, both colorful and entertaining, exemplify one way children preserve their culture and distinguish themselves from the adult world.
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