Colorado State University Grant to Help Train Future Food and Fiber Professionals in Socially Responsible Promotion

Colorado State University has received a $449,000 grant from the U. S. Department of Agriculture to develop curriculum for students across the nation that will instill social responsibility in the way products such as food and fashion goods are marketed. The project aims to understand and influence advertising’s effects on social problems such as body image, obesity, alcohol and tobacco use, violence and sexual activity among young adolescents.  

The social responsibility project involves building awareness through new college-level curriculum, internships and continuing education courses among students and professionals about a business’s responsibility to critically assess the messages and meanings that consumers may glean from marketing messages, and to use messages that encourage positive social outcomes.

"Advertising and promotion not only encourage purchases, they also effect consumers’ perceptions of social reality. They shape attitudes and behaviors," said Mary Littrell, head of the Department of Design and Merchandising at Colorado State and project manager. "Food, alcohol and tobacco, restaurant and apparel advertisements often invoke themes of substance abuse or addiction, sex, violence, idealized body imagery and ethnic and gender stereotypes."

Experts involved in the project include professors in Colorado State design and merchandising, journalism, restaurant and resort management and human development and family studies and partners from Ohio State University and University of North Carolina. Their goal is to rectify a lack of academic preparation related to the social impacts of marketing messages.

While some groups argue that images in the media aren’t responsible for social consequences such as underage drinking and smoking, obesity, violence and sexual promiscuity, evidence continues to mount that these images have a significant impact on lifestyles, stereotypes and attitudes.

In particular, the group will focus on the social consequences from advertising and promotion on children, adolescents, women and minorities. These groups are frequent targets of and often highly susceptible to persuasive media images and messages, according to research.

In addition to developing advanced courses and curriculum, the group also will develop internship opportunities for upper-division students in consumer goods companies, advertising and media organizations, educational and advocacy groups and relevant government agencies.

The new curriculum and educational materials developed through the grant will foster an eventual change in advertising and promotion practices for these goods as students taught under the program become professionals. The curriculum will be Web-based to allow students access from across the nation.

To develop the curriculum, faculty will interview industry stakeholders about the practices, roles and responsibilities of businesses in promoting social responsibility and achieving change in advertising and promotion. The group also will build partnerships with companies recognized for socially responsible promotion. In addition, the group will partner with several advertising and media organizations involved in the industry, educational and advocacy groups, and government agencies that support research and education in media studies and social marketing.  

Food and fiber products account for more than 20 percent of an average U.S. household’s annual expenditures, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Companies are beginning to make efforts to modify their messages to lessen potentially harmful impacts. Last year Kraft Foods implemented a plan to promote healthier snacks and halted the advertising of some unhealthy snacks during children’s television programming. McDonalds also introduced a campaign to promote new healthy menu items and exercise, and Nike’s recent campaigns promote diverse body shapes among women.