Getting kids to eat their greens requires an evil masterstroke
A view from Iain Sawbridge

Getting kids to eat their greens requires an evil masterstroke

When it comes to this particular audience and advertising challenge, conventional thinking just wasn't bringing home the broccoli.

While "five a day" is considered one of the most successful, long-running public-health campaigns in history, some kids have other ideas. You’d assume they’ve heard the phrase – but 42% of children still get it wrong, thinking you need to eat fewer than five bits of fruit and veg a day.

That is a challenge. So when ITV and Veg Power approached us at Beano Studios to work on a new campaign to get kids to eat more veg, we were well up for it.

Children, famously, don’t like vegetables – no surprise there. According to our own research with thousands of six- to 12-year-olds on Beano.com, close to a quarter think they are "yuck" – their words, not ours. It’s striking, especially since many of them are parented by supposedly wellness-driven millennials, and it’s even more intriguing that 42% of them don’t know how much fruit and veg to eat to be healthy.

None of this helps to ameliorate the obesity crisis currently inflicting in the UK. Data published by the government in October 2018 showed the rate of severe obesity among children aged 10-11 has increased by more than a third since 2006-2007 to 4.2% – its highest rate ever.

But how can you positively change the habits of a demographic whose consumption trends are ephemeral in nature and who forget fast? Who are increasingly sophisticated in their ability to screen out bland, educational, brand-heavy messaging just the way adults do? Entertainment, not education. Speak with, not at.

Sound familiar? That’s right, it’s the same rules as for audiences 10 or 20 years older. Except that they are nine and they’ve already got your brand on toast if you don’t get it right.

At this age, they also need a duty of care and clear signposting. They love positive messaging, they are socially minded. It’s a balancing act.

This is the challenge we’ve been working on with ITV and Veg Power to help address the issue of diet head on. Our insight into six- to 12-year-olds has provided the underbelly to the "Eat them to defeat them" campaign we’ve just launched.

We were chuffed to be approached by ITV to provide digital content for the campaign, because the attitude of what Adam & Eve/DDB has created was so resonant with what our audiences love day in, day out.

It’s counter-intuitive; veg aren’t cartoony best mates asking you to love them, they are EVIL! This is World War Z, but with more zucchini than zombie… and only kids can stop the pulp-stained onslaught.

It’s a brilliant, forward-thinking and proactive project, with purpose at its core (sorry), of which ITV, Veg Power and an unprecedented alliance of competitors in the UK grocery market (Aldi, Asda, Birds Eye, Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsburys, Tesco and Waitrose) can be justifiably proud.

And there’s much more to come. Our emerging longitudinal survey on the new Generation Alpha (which we define as born in 2010 and after) clearly indicates that brands need to play to their new set of rules.

Gen Alpha looks like they will be powerful – driven by self-direction and authenticity – and are highly plugged in to what’s going on in the wider world. They will be self-aware, self-made, fluid and subversive in the name of inclusiveness and social good.

Ultimately, as this joint campaign shows, we will need to whip out the shovel of disruption and uproot the rules of brand engagement for this generation if we want to avoid a wormy demise on the compost heap of history.

Iain Sawbridge is chief marketing officer and director at Beano for Brands