Cara Wilking, a Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) staff attorney, has authored an issue brief intended to provide a legal foundation for consumer protection lawsuits against food companies that advertise “unhealthy food and beverage products” to children in a manner that she describes as “pester power” marketing. She explains that such marketing “targets children who, unable to purchase products for themselves, nag, pester and beleaguer their parents into purchasing unhealthy food products for them.” Wilking’s premise is that “[p]ester power marketing tactics are similar to oppressive and unscrupulous ‘high pressure’ sales tactics,” and that parents, for a number of reasons, are unable to say “no” when their children beg for these products in public.

According to Wilking, two primary legal theories can support private litigant claims and are also “applicable to actions initiated by state attorneys general to protect the public interest.” Those theories are (i) “pester power marketing as unfair ‘indirect’ marketing to parents,” and (ii) “pester power marketing as unlawful direct marketing to children.” PHAI researchers have studied the consumer protections laws of every state, and Wilking explains how the two theories fit into the different protections provided under those laws. A separate PHAI paper discusses the researchers’ findings from the state-law survey.  

Formed in the early 2000s to tackle obesity by taking on “Big Food” and to continue advocacy and litigation-support efforts against “Big Tobacco,” PHAI is affiliated with Northeastern University School of Law and headed by law professor and anti-tobacco advocate Richard Daynard.