Junk Food Injunction- Latest Edition

February 2015

Message from the Editors

In Australia, food advertising to children in any media comes primarily under industry self-regulatory initiatives with no active monitoring but a reliance on the community to lodge complaints with the Advertising Standards Bureau.

With the start of the New Year we look back at 2014 and review complaints about food marketing to children. Five complaints that obviously breached the food industry marketing to children initiatives were upheld. However, the Advertising Standards Board that considers complaints is bound by the definitions in these initiatives and there are still plenty of loopholes for advertisers to exploit.

Eleven complaints were dismissed.

In this edition we look at the encouraging findings in 2014 and also the loopholes that appear year after year.

Enjoy reading,
Regards Wendy.

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Two wins from 2014

Showing physical activity is not enough

Two grocery ads that come under the Responsible Children's Marketing Initiative were caught out because although they showed physical activity they did not "encourage good dietary habits". The Coco Beats website invited children to jam using their webcam and Coco Pops packaging. Despite Kellogg arguing that drumming is a physically demanding activity and during the jam children are told to take a break, "Coco's arms need a break", the Board ruled that there was a positive obligation to encourage good dietary habits that the ad didn't meet. A Unilever Paddlepop ad on pay TV was also found to breach this clause because it did not have "strong" messaging relating to good dietary habits. In the ad a child turns into the Paddlepop Lion and battles the "villain". Unilever defended the ad by pointing out the "scenes of obvious physical activity".

An unintentional breach is still a breach

All three breaches of the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative were not intentional according to the advertisers. An ad for KFC was shown 11 times in children's shows and there were two incidents where vouchers for McDonald's fries and cheeseburgers were handed to kids at sporting events even though McDonald's says they will only advertise healthy foods. KFC said it was an unintentional placement and McDonald's said the first breach was an isolated incident and after the second breach said they have updated their guidelines and undertaken training of staff.

Five recurring loopholes

Websites that integrate product with children's games and show an "adventure" pass the "encourage physical activity" test

Complaints about both the Lion's Yogo and the Unilever Paddlepop Lion websites were dismissed because they depicted physical activity and adventures. Both websites included messages such as "be active" and "true heroes balance energy intake with activity" in an effort to encourage physical activity. The Board also found that pop-up messages telling the player how long they have been playing for were sufficient to meet the physical activity requirement of the initiative.

Showing only the healthy option in a range is enough to be considered "modelling good dietary habits"

McDonald's Emlings app, which is designed for 4-8 year olds and features games with the Happy Meal Box character, shows images of the healthier Happy Meal consisting of a wrap, fruit bag and milk even though children can choose other options under Happy Meal choices when they go in-store. The Board admitted that mention of a Happy Meal without product is a reference to all kids' meal options but considered that each image of the Happy Meal Box does not need to be accompanied by the healthier choice meal.

Ads with "dark or sophisticated" themes and a "surreal aspect" are not considered attractive to children

The Nestle Wonka chocolate TV ad was an animated ad featuring a family adventure. Despite the name referencing the well-known children's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Board said the theme of this ad was "slightly obscure- a family sharing chocolate in a strange fantasy world" and "the characters are not strongly modelled on any recognisable animated characters". The loophole here is the ad was not considered of primary appeal to children. The complaint about the ad was dismissed as it was not only attractive to children but "an older teen, young adult and chocolate lover". That was also the argument used in dismissing the Kellogg Coco Pops TV ad which depicted a mechanical breakfast making machine. The Board said the ad was "similar to a Honda advertisement from 2009 that does the same thing – conceptually fascinating to watch but in the Board's view no more compelling to a child than to an adult".

No new signatories to the food industry initiatives since their inception in 2009

Five ads by companies that haven't signed up to the food industry initiatives were among ads complained about in 2014. Fyna Foods' Wizz Fizz interactive website has children's games on it and Wendy's used animated characters to advertise hot dogs and ice creams on TV during the pre-schoolers program Dora the Explorer but neither has signed the food industry initiatives. And three Peters Fandangles iceblock TV ads featuring animated characters were not considered under the food industry initiative because Peters is not a signatory. Following recommendations from an independent review in 2012, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) stated it was "currently exploring options for increasing signatories from within the AFGC membership base and encouraging non AFGC member companies to become signatories".

The Australian Association of National Advertisers' Codes fail to address concerns about marketing to children

The Children's Code states that ads "should not encourage nor promote unhealthy eating habits" and according to the Board that means encouraging consumption to excess. It is unlikely that ads would do this. For example the Board found that games on the Wizz Fizz website are "unlikely to be interpreted by children as messaging that would encourage them to eat multiple packets of Wizz Fizz". Even a KFC ad with plates covered in food and buckets overflowing with chicken disproportionate to the number of people in the ad was dismissed because the Board found that the target audience would recognise the ad was depicting the range of options available and included "an element of puffery".
These codes also judge whether ads are contrary to community standards. In the case of Wendy's Supa Sundaes the Board said that "most people in the Australian community would not consider the promotion of hotdog, milkshake and ice creams in children's programs contrary to community standards". We think that is what the community expects from the codes- to protect children from advertising of unhealthy foods. And that is what the parent who complained about the Wendy's ad thought too. They said "when a clearly Junk food ad for Wendy's came on I was quite upset. I thought Australia had regulation for exactly this reason?"

What can you do?

The industry initiatives are supposed to protect children from unhealthy food advertising. The system requires the community to report ads they feel are promoting unhealthy food to children. If you see an ad that is marketing unhealthy foods to kids let us know or report it to the Advertising Standards Board.