Briefing: the new marketing rules

Committee of Advertising Practice announce new restrictions on junk food advertising on children’s media

It’s taken us many different forms of campaigning over the last few years – from petitions, to detailed reports, to exposing irresponsible ads, to dressing up in costumes – and a combined effort from many organisations. But the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), the industry body that sets the rules, has finally listened and acted on our calls to reduce children’s exposure to junk food marketing.

What was announced:

On 8 December 2016 CAP announced new rules prohibiting less healthy food and drink being advertised across all forms of non-broadcast children’s media (including online, magazines, cinema ads and billboards). The rules are a positive step and may go some way to removing the most blatant forms of such advertising to under 16s. Hopefully this will include the child-friendly advergames & apps most favoured by confectionery companies. The rules will come into force in July 2017.

Loopholes:

But CAP has failed to learn the lessons from industry’s exploitation of loopholes in TV advertising regulations. Just as many of the TV programmes most watched by children (Britain’s Got Talent, X-Factor, Hollyoaks etc) aren’t covered by the rules, so it looks like many of children’s favourite social media sites and Youtubers may not be either. That’s because the restrictions only kick in when the advert is placed somewhere with an audience of over 25% children. Billboards near schools are another big question mark on how the rules may apply. And we know they certainly won’t apply to product packaging itself.

Unfortunately, the power still seems to be very much in the hands of manufacturers and advertisers, not parents. Instead of a comprehensive and transparent definition of what constitutes marketing ‘directly appealing to children’, which Children’s Food Campaign proposed, CAP will only apply the restrictions when children are over 25% of the audience. This figure provides insufficient protection to children, whilst giving parents little knowledge of what is and isn’t covered.  

It is also hugely disappointing that CAP has taken no action to restrict the use of children’s favourite cartoon or film characters (Star Wars, Peppa Pig, Olaf and Elsa et al) or other child-friendly brand characters (Haribo bear, Tony the Tiger), on the packaging of sugary food and drink. But at least it now becomes harder for companies to promote such products directly to children in other locations beyond the supermarket aisle.

Implementation (Operation Eagle Eye):

Ultimately, the new rules are only as good as the body which enforces them. We hope that from July 2017 CAP and the Advertising Standards Authority will ensure companies follow both the letter and the spirit of these new rules. And we will be there to put in complaints and test the scope and strength of the new rules, and push for closing of the loopholes.

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