Advertising regulator caves in to Nestlé pressure instead of upholding Children's Food Campaign complaint
Nesquik powdered milk flavouring, manufactured by food giant Nestlé, has escaped official censure for advertising that claimed the sugary product was “wholesome milky goodness for kids” that contributed to “a healthy balanced diet”. The Advertising Standards Authority has backed down from upholding a complaint against these claims, which featured prominently on Nesquik’s website, alongside the brand’s cartoon rabbit celebrating, skateboarding and drinking the sugary product.
The Children’s Food Campaign, a group of health professionals, teachers and concerned parents, complained in April 2012 that the Nesquik website promoted the product in a way that encouraged the impression that a high-sugar drink is “wholesome”, and something that children should drink every day. A single portion of Nesquik contributes one quarter of a child’s recommended daily maximum intake of sugar.
Advertising rules overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) state that marketing communications “must not condone or encourage poor nutritional habits or an unhealthy lifestyle in children” [CAP Code 15.11] and “references to general benefits of a nutrient or food for overall good health or health-related well-being are acceptable only if accompanied by a specific authorised health claim” [CAP Code 15.2].
After an 18-month investigation during which the claims continued to be made, the ASA made a recommendation to its adjudicating council that Nestlé should withdraw the nutritional claims. Usually, such a ruling would lead to a detailed report being published on the ASA website, as a warning to other advertisers not to make similar claims. In this case, following a legal challenge from the food giant Nestlé, the only information that has been published by the ASA, on 30 October 2013, is a one-line statement saying that the case has been “resolved informally”. On the day before this statement was due to be published, Nestlé took down the Nesquik website.
Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, commented:
“We’re extremely disappointed to see the Advertising Standards Authority cave in, apparently under industry pressure. This ruling could have sent an important message to the junk food industry to show that it is unacceptable to promote sugary products to children as if they are healthy. We fear this is typical of the weak approach of the ASA, which is a body funded by, and with very close links to, the advertising industry.
“In our Through the Looking Glass report, published earlier this year, we found the ASA’s approach to complaints to be inconsistent, secretive, biased towards companies with the money and time to challenge rulings, and focused on the letter rather than the spirit of the Code. We need the advertising regulators to do more to protect children’s health.”
Children’s Food Campaign’s Through the Looking Glass report, examining the topsy turvy world of the regulations that are supposed to (but don’t) protect children from online marketing of junk food, can be downloaded here.
On 18 April 2012 the Children’s Food Campaign submitted complaints to the ASA that Nesquik’s UK website www.nesquik.co.uk (i) gave a misleading impression of the nutritional content of Nesquik and (ii) encouraged poor nutritional habits in children, by suggesting that Nesquik was suitable for consumption every day. The complaints referred to the phrases “enjoy a glass of tasty goodness”, “wholesome milky goodness”, “wholesome milky goodness for kids every day”, as well as the ‘good to know’ and ‘good to remember’ nutritional advice provided on that site which failed to mention that the product was also high in sugar. Over a half of the sugar content in a typical serving of Nesquik milkshake is non-milk extrinsic (ie added) sugar, rather than that naturally occurring lactose found in milk.
A selection of screenshots from the Nesquik website – first accessed 18 April 2012, and still viewable on 28 October 2013 – can be requested by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Timeline of the complaint investigation:
18 April 2012 – Children’s Food Campaign submit complaint.
31 October 2012 – first draft ruling issued. The draft ruling upheld the first complaint, but did not uphold the second complaint.
13 December 2012 – ASA acknowledge ruling delayed due to Nestlé response.
11 January 2013 – second draft ruling issued: The draft ruling was revised but still upheld the first complaint.
8 February 2013 – ASA acknowledges ruling further delayed due to Nestlé response.
29 August 2013 – third draft ruling issued: The draft ruling was further revised but still upheld the first complaint.
22 October 2013 – ASA tells Children’s Food Campaign that the case will be “informally resolved”.
30 October 2013 – ASA publishes new list of informally resolved cases, which only states Nestlé’s name, the industry sector and the medium in which the advertising appeared.
Changes to Nesquik website:
For a detailed analysis of the changes which Nestle has made to the Nesquik website on 29 October 2013, see here.
Children's Food Campaign
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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