26 Apr 2016

Cookie Bear - a threatened species?

6:28 pm on 26 April 2016

Veteran biscuit mascot Cookie Bear could soon be on the endangered species list as Auckland health authorities set him - and others like him - in their sights.

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Photo: RNZ / Rowan Quinn

They are asking for changes to advertising regulations to stop companies being allowed to use child-friendly mascots and characters on unhealthy food.

Cookie Bear appears on many Griffin's biscuit packets, but was first created for Hudson's biscuits in 1968 and was a big celebrity in the 1970s and 1980s.

The group Healthy Auckland Together - which is made up of district health boards, the Auckland Council, the Ministry of Health and iwi groups and other and other heavy hitters - wants Cookie Bear, and all others like him, off packets of unhealthy food.

They have made the call in a submission to the Advertising Standards Authority, which is reviewing its code for advertising to children.

The Cookie Bear Club had more than 160,000 members at its peak in the 1970s.

The Cookie Bear Club had more than 160,000 members at its peak in the 1970s. Photo: Supplied

Healthy Auckland Together spokesman Michael Hale, a public health physician, said fuzzy little characters were part of well-calculated marketing operations that were trying to bypass parents.

"[They are] subverting their choice by getting the nag factor happening and trying to attach a bit of brand loyalty directly to children.

"So, although these things are cute and nice, they're actually quite an insidious way of getting to kids and getting them tapped into your particular brand."

With his catchphrase "dum-de-doo", Cookie Bear was at the height of his fame in the '70s, when kids signed up to the Cookie Bear Club to get merchandise and a card on their birthday.

Former Hudson's marketing manager Mike Groves said 162,000 kids had joined by 1976 - so many that four people were employed to process the sacks of mail that came in every week.

"A bit like people write to Father Christmas, they think he's really there and they want to communicate with him. Cookie Bear was the same, people sort of formed a bond with him."

But Mr Groves said Cookie Bear's main purpose was to sell more biscuits, generate brand loyalty and to increase the company's market share.

"If you capture these little kids now, get them thinking good things about Cookie Bear and relating to his picture on a biscuit packet, they would encourage their Mum to buy Hudson's biscuits."

But that was the 1970s, when the obesity epidemic was still decades away.

Healthy Auckland Together was set up to fight that problem, and much of its work focuses on changing the aspects of society that make it easier for people to become overweight.

Dr Hale said it was not fair that marketers targeted children, because they could not be rational about advertising.

"When they are marketed to, unlike an adult who can say 'okay there's a pitch going on here and I'm going to tease out what's good for me and what's not,' children accept the information told to them as if it's true. Just like it would be from a teacher."

Cookie Bear's role has diminished from his heyday but he is still a big part of Griffin's marketing.

The company would not comment on this issue.

Neither would the Food and Grocery Council, which represents several other brands marketing to children.

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