ITV and Veg Power are recruiting kids in the fight against childhood obesity with a major national campaign promoting vegetables.
"Eat them to defeat them", created by Adam & Eve/DDB, takes an unconventional approach to encouraging healthy eating among children. The activity is funded by an alliance of all of the UK’s supermarkets and Birds Eye, while ITV has backed the initiative by supplying £2m of airtime across its channels.
The aim is to put kids in control of their food choices by playing on the truth that many of them find vegetables unappealing.
"People have been telling kids that vegetables are good for you for many years, and it’s never worked," Mat Goff, chief executive of Adam & Eve/DDB, said. "This does away with that conventional wisdom and speaks to kids on their level, making it more playful."
A 60-second film, directed by Ninian Doff through Pulse Films, sets up an action movie-like scenario in which a horde of evil vegetables emerge "from underground to take over the world". In the end, the children save the day and defeat the invaders by devouring all the vegetables.
"We threaten and smuggle vegetables to get kids to eat them – all of which don’t work," Clare Phillips, director of social purpose at ITV, said. "This presents the kids as heroes, because the adults have failed."
Tackling childhood obesity
The Veg Power fund was established in 2018 by TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in an attempt to tackle the rise of childhood obesity and diet-related illnesses in the UK. Recent research by The Food Foundation revealed that 96% of teenagers and 80% of primary school-age children do not eat enough vegetables.
Veg Power aims to address the fact that vegetables make up just 1.2% of food and drink advertising spend in the UK. The organisation wants to build a permanent advertising fund for vegetables and, in 2018, raised £100,000 through crowdfunding.
Last year, Veg Power ran a poster advertising competition, in collaboration with Fearnley-Whittingstall and Sir John Hegarty, co-founder of Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Since then, it has signed a deal with ITV, which got involved as part of its Feel Good initiative that seeks to inspire healthier diets and more exercise.
This latest activity is the start of "a more serious", long-term campaign – "10 years at least," Hegarty said. "All the data in the world won’t solve this problem, but creativity will."
ITV enlisted Adam & Eve/DDB, which created the campaign pro bono, with a challenge explained by Phillips: "How do we shift vegetables from the least-desired to the most-desired food on our plate?"
"Eat them to defeat them" will premiere on Friday evening during Coronation Street, then run for an initial 12 weeks during shows such as The Voice, Dancing on Ice and Britain’s Got Talent. The day after the campaign launch, ITV will broadcast its first vegetable-only ad break during The Voice, featuring the Veg Power ad as well as other spots. Goodstuff Communications is the media agency.
Beyond TV, activity will run outdoor, on social media, in cinemas during The Lego Movie 2 and in print publications such as children’s comic magazine The Beano. An online hub will host content including quizzes, games and recipes.
The shopping experience
Meanwhile, Veg Power is also trying to transform the experience of shopping for vegetables in supermarkets. Brands including Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose will use campaign materials in their stores and online.
"That aisle in the supermarket couldn’t be less interesting to kids," Goff said. "We’re trying to put some fun in there."
Adam & Eve/DDB has created an "eat chart" for kids, which will track their course and reward them with stickers when they consume vegetables. The charts and posters will be distributed to thousands of schools and supermarkets across the country.
"It’s turning it into a game," Phillips explained. "The dream would be we run out of things like carrots in supermarkets."
Until now, messaging about healthy eating has made the mistake of talking down to children, she continued: "Adults forget what it’s like to be a kid, so we sanitise it."
"Eat them to defeat them" was created to appeal to both children and adults. Much like the previous generation grew up to believe spinach was good because Popeye ate it to make him strong, the new campaign will hopefully become part of culture, Phillips added.
Rather than simply driving people to a website or social media account, Veg Power is hoping the activity will trigger a real behaviour change by getting kids to eat more vegetables – in the same vein as anti-smoking or anti-drink-driving campaigns of the past.
"This could be an example to the rest of the world," Hegarty said.
It also demonstrates that where governments might fall short in addressing social issues such as childhood obesity, businesses can step in and make a positive impact, Phillips and Hegarty added.
"The response from the government to issues is usually ‘stop advertising’," Hegarty said. "This is showing that advertising can help."