The Top 10 Junk Food Ads Targeted At Kids

It’s news today that Disney is no longer going to air junk food ads targeted at kids. And though this certainly is a step forward in the battle against childhood obesity, I can’t help but feel a certain nostalgia for the junk food ads that were targeted at me in my childhood. Craig and I started the day today recalling our favorite junk food ads growing up and I had the idea to compile them into a list. What follows is certainly subjective, but even if these commercials don’t ring any memory bells, they’re worth watching for the insidious ways that they ensnare children into buying their products.

10. Apple Jacks:

This was the first ad that popped into my head when I thought “junk food ad targeted at kids.” This is all about the jingle–“cinnamon crunchy fun to eat / Apple Jacks are appley sweet”–a jingle so effective, I remember demanding a box of Apple Jacks from my mother at an early age. When I prevailed, I loved how those little red-flecked circles colored the milk pink and how that big green box towered over all the other cereals. Of course, there are a million other junk food cereal ads targeted at kids we could invoke here–the Trix rabbit, Toucan Sam, the Honeysmacks frog–but the Apple Jacks jingle has stayed with me the longest.

9. Kool-Aid:

It’s such a simple concept which is probably why it’s so memorable: a giant pitcher of Kool-Aid bursts through a wall. That’s the concept. The pitcher has an animated face, too, and a funny voice; but it’s the bursting through the wall that excited so many kids who saw these commercials growing up. I wonder, if you explored that psychologically, if the bursting through the wall was an expression of a child’s id? A projection of one’s need for destruction? Or escape from the confines of school, homework, chores, and one’s nagging parents? Or maybe kids just liked to see a giant talking pitcher of Kool-Aid? No matter the reason, that talking, wall-breaking Kool-Aid pitcher is unforgettable.

8. Keebler Elves:

They seem so harmless, those Keebler Elves. Such nice little men in their tree making cookies for all the boys and girls. These commercials, which I remember explicitly from the David Copperfield specials I’d record on VHS, play towards a child’s need for both nurture and fantasy. These are magical elves who live in a tree, but they sound like kind grandfathers–kind Elvish grandfathers who cram their cookies full of chemicals and preservatives and who knows what else. As a kid, I found these Keebler Elf commercials comforting–and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. That’s probably why they persisted for so long.

7. Kit-Kat Bar:

Who doesn’t remember that jingle? But if you watch the images, you’ll see small hands holding Kit-Kat bars sticking out of school bus windows and a little boy licking chocolate off his fingers. The idea is that it’s a “hip” “adult” song (look at those nifty MTV-style graphics) that kids can get too–but only cool kids. I remember being eager to try my first Kit-Kat after seeing this commercial. And ya know what? It was pretty good.

6. Juicy Fruit:

This is one of two (maybe three) commercials on my list that doesn’t seemed designed, specifically, for kids. But that’s where you’re wrong. Sure, this seems to be all about 20-somethings going on a ski trip; but for kids who want to appear adult and cool, this is all for them. And I remember these Juicy Fruit commercials (with their unshakable jingle) airing all the time during shows that I watched. And I’m sure that wasn’t an accident.

5. Domino’s (The Noid):

The Noid, more than the Little Caesar’s “pizza pizza” guy, is a child-oriented character meant to invoke–in its Claymation way–one of those beloved childhood TV fixtures like the Claymation Rudolph or the Claymation Frosty. Only The Noid is meant to be a Grinch. And he doesn’t really seem to have a lot of personality, though his narrator has that magical voice that kids love. I don’t have particularly fond memories of The Noid, but in terms of pizza ads targeted at children, I don’t think you can do any better.

4. Hostess:

Do you remember these commercials? I don’t and yet I do. The point is that Hostess had commercials that aired during Saturday morning cartoons that felt like Saturday morning cartoons. This ad certainly does. And though I don’t think there are still ads on TV for Twinkies and Ring Dings and cupcakes (are there?), these commercials blended seamlessly with our morning entertainment… and tricked us into eating cakes and sweets that made us obese and pimply and unlovable when we got older.

3. Bonkers:

“What’s that commercial where fruit come crashing through the ceiling?” Craig immediately called back, excitedly, from the other room: “BONKERS!” Of course! These commercials were so prevalent growing up, they live in my brain like exquisite relics from a warmer, simpler time. It’s just a bunch of old ladies who get fruit dropped on their heads. Is there any junk food commercial today that comes anywhere close to the zany delight these Bonkers commercials offered? Why can’t there be more Bonkers commercials? I say the Disney channel should make an exception for Bonkers.

2. Always Coca-Cola:

Here’s where I struggled the most. Craig made a claim for the 80’s Pepsi E.T. commercials, but those were so tied to a specific moment in time. Whereas this Coke commercial–Always Coca-Cola–aired ALL THE TIME when I was growing up. And if you listen to the lyrics–“Whenever there is school there’ll always be homework”–it seems clear they’re going after kids. Of all the Coke commercials that came before or after, this is the one I associate the most with my childhood. Feel free to disagree in the comments.

1. McDonald’s:

You’re going to scratch your head when you see my #1 choice. “Of all the McDonald’s commercials targeted at kids, you chose THAT one?” Let me explain.

When I was in 3rd grade, there was a nationwide contest where if a class at any school memorized that song and recorded it on video, they could win a lot of money for their district. (Or something like that.) Anyway: the point is I was made to MEMORIZE this commercial–the full McDonald’s menu–for school. If that isn’t the most corrupt, disturbing, 1984-ish approach to marketing junk food to kids you’ve ever heard of, you must live in a very corrupt, disturbing place.

And the worst part (or best part?) is? I can still remember it without watching the video. “Big Mac, McDLT a quarter pounder with some cheese….”

If I’d grown up today, I could’ve conserved that space in my brain for memorizing the collected works of Robert Frost. As it stands, because of those junk food ads targeted at kids, I’m a walking McDonald’s menu.

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