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BBC Newsnight: how companies are bending the rules on junk food advertising

Sugary brands including Kinder, Chewits and Kellogg’s CocoPops were exposed by BBC Newsnight on Monday 15 January for continuing to target under-16s via websites, games, toys, apps and cartoon characters.

Despite ten years of TV advertising legislation banning junk food advertising in children’s TV programming, and new Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) regulations restricting marketing to under-16s via non-broadcast channels, companies are still getting their brands in front of children as young as three years via websites, advergames, apps, toy and cartoon character tie-ins, the BBC Newsnight report shows. 

The Children’s Food Campaign was featured in the programme, sharing the results of our monitoring of marketing tactics being employed by brands such as Kinder, Chewits and Kellogg’s Coco Pops. Kinder immediately responded to the programme by saying they will now place under-16s age restrictions on their website, something they should have done when the new CAP regulations came in last July. However, their online games for children and Magic Kinder YouTube films still have toys only available in Kinder Surprise eggs as characters. Chewits claim their Facebook page has been refocussed to an adult audience, but it continues to be hosted by childish cartoon character Chewie the Chewitsaurus and features posts about school libraries, colouring in books and GCSEs. A 2017 tie-in between The Emoji Movie and Kellogg’s CocoPops Granola, which, unlike the main brand, falls below the HFSS product definition, but is identically branded to products which do not, illustrates further loopholes companies are using to get around the current rules.

“It’s clear that, as well as some clear breaches of the new marketing regulations, such as enforcing website age-entry restrictions, many companies are just not acting in the spirit of what the rules are there to do: protect children from excessive exposure to junk food marketing,” says Barbara Crowther, the Co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign. “It is once again evidence that voluntary approaches are simply failing children, and regulations need to be extended and more strongly enforced.” The Advertising Standards Authority has confirmed it is now looking at sample evidence submitted by the campaign, and shown by BBC Newsnight.

The campaign will continue its monitoring and press for regulations to be tightened in a likely review of the government’s Obesity Plan later this year. We will be calling them to close the many loopholes that mean children continue to be bombarded with ads, games, billboards, celebrity and cartoon endorsements, and on-pack or in-store promotions for unhealthy foods. We will also be seeking parents’ views on this topic via our Parents’ Jury surveys, and encourage anyone concerned to sign up to take part.


16/01/2018
Children's Food Campaign

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Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.

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Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming

Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.