When you think “educational children’s television,” Cartoon Network probably doesn’t come to mind. However, back in May 2007 they premiered their public education campaign called Spot the Block, together with the Food and Drug Administration. The block we’re meant to spot is the block of nutritional information on the back of food and drinks, and the campaign (part of Cartoon Network’s Get Animated initiative) is to give kids the tools they need to understand nutrition labels and make smart choices. This is done with the help of some favorite characters from Cartoon Network shows such as Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Camp Lazlo, Chowder and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. Spot the Block is currently gaining news traction because starting on Monday, April 7, the campaign will expand its online content with original songs that are free to download, new videos, downloadable desktop friends and a new online game. More spots will also be seen regularly on Cartoon Network itself.
What struck me about this is the FDA’s partnership with Cartoon Network. It’s smart on the part of the FDA, and responsible for Cartoon Network to use their powerful brands to send a positive message. In my opinion, any media outlet that caters to young people has a moral obligation to do more than just provide a space for mindless entertainment. When millions of kids are watching your shows, you are in a unique position to influence change, but it is easy to ignore these opportunities in favor of the bottom line. Time and money spent on Spot the Block could be going to other more profitable enterprises, like merchandise, but instead it’s going towards sending messages about healthy lifestyles.
And yet…I’m not so naive as to think that Cartoon Network is doing this purely out of the kindness of their little Powerpuff hearts. By working a campaign for healthy lifestyles into their programming, parents might feel better about letting their kids watch Cartoon Network, not to mention that Cartoon Network also reaps the benefits of building a more robust brand and improving their image. Never mind the irony that in order to receive a message about nutrition from Cartoon Network, you have to be sedentary, at least until they go the Sesame Street route and make exercise videos. However, since reverse marketing seems to be working for some companies, it’s not going anywhere soon. The best thing we can do as educated consumers, young and old, is understand the messages and process them for ourselves.