Junk Food Injunction- Latest Edition

February 2017

Sports Sponsorship

Food advertising complaints in 2016 – history repeats as advertisers continue to exploit regulation loopholes

In 2016 there were 11 complaints to the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) concerning food and beverage marketing to children, of which only two were upheld. The majority were for advertisements on the internet; five regarding websites and three on Facebook, highlighting that food advertisers are responding to the trend that children are spending more time online than watching TV. The remaining complaints were for two TV advertisements and one bus stop poster.

Again we see the same offenders of past, and again we see similar excuses and disappointing decisions. In this edition we take a closer look at the complaints and the loopholes of the self-regulatory initiatives and showcase a new study that examines whether the amount of junk food marketing has changed since the introduction of these initiatives.

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Read past issues of Junk Food Injunction


Who were the offenders?

Despite a commitment not to market to children, nine out of the 11 complaints were against food companies that are signatories to either the Responsible Children's Marketing Initiative (RCMI) or the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative (QSRI). However only two of these complaints were upheld and the food advertisers managed to exploit loopholes within the regulations to argue that they didn't breach the rules, despite it being blatantly obvious that their products are aimed at children. The remaining two complaints involved a non-signatory company therefore considered under the Advertising to Children Code.

Complaints that were upheld in 2016

"Best. Snack. (Ne)Ever"

A TV ad complaint for Patties Party Pies that was shown during the children's movie Frozen was partially upheld. The ad featured a family at home with a young boy dressed as an astronaut enjoying a plate full of party pies and exclaiming they are the 'Best, Snack, Ever!'. The complainant stated that the ad did not represent healthier dietary choices, there was no reference to promoting physical activity and it was directed at children as it was during the movie Frozen. However Patties argued that the ad was targeted at the grocery buyer as "the adults are enjoying themselves and clearly looking forward to having a Patties Party Pie as much as Daniel". Furthermore the astronaut theme, music and visuals would not "appeal to a child's imagination and sense of play and wonderment" and that physical activity was promoted by Daniel "playing in his bedroom". The ASB ruled the ad was in breach of the RCMI as it did not represent a healthier dietary choice however agreed with Patties that it was not primarily targeted at children despite admitting that Frozen is aimed at children. (Case no: 0511/15)

Paddle Pop repeatedly popping up

Unilever Australasia received two complaints in 2016 regarding their Paddle Pop product, of which only one was found in breach of the RCMI. The first complaint regarded a poster at a bus stop featuring the Paddle Pop Lion character holding a Paddle Pop. It was argued that the ad used themes, visuals and language that would primarily appeal to children. However Unilever responded with the 'all ages' excuse; Paddle Pops are enjoyed by 'all ages', the bus stop although used by school buses is frequented by 'all ages' and the Paddle Pop lion appeals to 'all ages' because – wait for it – it is an adult due to its "mane and mature safari suit" therefore not targeted at children. Furthermore they argued the lion is depicted in mid-jump therefore promoting physical activity. Disappointingly the ASB agreed and the complaint was dismissed, demonstrating the ease to which food companies can creatively exploit the regulations. (0465/16)

However in late 2016, a complaint from the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) about a Paddle Pop ad promoted on You Tube was upheld. The ad featured two primary school aged children opening a treasure chest on a beach to reveal a Paddle Pop. An exciting adventure followed with the Lion fighting off an evil character. The complaint was upheld despite Unilever arguing that there were references to healthy dietary habits and physical activity through the ad being set at a beach, the fleeting presence of fruit within the screenshot, visuals of a physical battle between the animations and the text 'True heroes balance energy intake and activity'. (Case no: 0512/16)

Complaints dismissed

But animations appeal to everyone, don't they?

It's not just Unilever who cries that their ads appeal to 'all ages', a complaint about the use of simple and whimsical animations and a childlike theme in a Mondelez Dairy Milk Oreo ad was ruled ok by the ASB. Mondelez successfully argued that the animated environment was 'realistic' rather than cartoon-like and the emojis were an 'adult form of communication' therefore of broad age appeal. Furthermore the ASB determined that You Tube would not be a medium where children represent 35% or more of the audience. (Case no: 0299/16, 0300/16)

McDonald's ad dismissed on an age technicality

A complaint was made about a McDonald's ad on Facebook regarding their Create Your Taste meal. The complainant said the ad was directed at children as it focused on promoting a free Happy Meal, featured a young girl and depicted her cheekily stealing a fry. Unfortunately this complaint was dismissed as the ASB agreed with McDonald's that the ad was not marketed to children because it was on Facebook, a platform that does not allow children under the age of 13 to hold an account. Interestingly, two other Facebook ad complaints were also dismissed citing the age limit as a factor. Despite the age limit, studies have shown that more than 50% of young children (under 13) access Facebook. (Case no: 0239/16)

Grill'd use of sport to encourage children to pester parents deemed ok

A promotion by Grill'd, the only complaint about a non-signatory, used a popular sport to encourage purchase. The promotion directly asked children to wear an AFL jersey in-store and purchase certain products to get a scratch card in return and a chance to win prizes, which included more chips, burgers and soft drinks. The ASB decided that the (very) small print stating children needed 'permission from your parent or guardian to enter' and 'your kids could score prizes…' was enough to show that they weren't directly promoting to children and wouldn't encourage pester power and the use of AFL encouraged activity. (Case no: 0346/16, 0347/16)

ASB agreed that 'being made of MILO' is required to be a champion

A complaint was submitted that MILO does not represent a healthier choice and that the repetitive 'My training, my squad, my fuel, my bad' ad had themes, visuals and audio from a kid's perspective and would appeal to their aspiration to become a champion. Nestle successfully argued that the actor was in his teens and the ad was directed at an adult audience who are heavily involved in their child's development. The ASB ruled that it was not in breach. (Case no: 0297/16, 0298/16)

Handball is played by everyone according to the ASB, therefore ok to promote LCM's

Kellogg's LCM ads are not new to the complaint system, this time the popular primary school game handball was used to embed the idea that LCM's are linked with being a sporting 'legend'. The ASB ruled that no breach was made despite agreeing overall that the internet ad was directed primarily to children but the call to action and inclusion of handball rules was directed to parents. Interestingly the majority of the Board found 'handball is a sport played by all ages' therefore would appeal to a broad audience. I don't know about you, but I have never seen a lunchtime session of handball in the office. (Case no: 0421/16)

New study shows food industry failing to self-regulate junk food ads to kids

A new Cancer Council NSW study has found no reduction in unhealthy food and drink ads on TV during children's peak viewing times, despite voluntary self-regulatory initiatives introduced by the food industry in 2009. On average, children are being exposed to 3 junk food ads every hour, which remains unchanged since Cancer Council NSW and University of Sydney conducted the same analysis in 2011. One in five ads were for fast food with McDonald's dominating this category accounting for 47% of fast food ads, followed by KFC (26%) and Hungry Jack's (16%) – all of which have signed the QSRI agreement to reduce advertising and marketing of unhealthy choices to children. This highlights self-regulatory initiatives are not working and changes are required to make a real difference in reducing exposure of children to junk food ads. Click here for the full media release.

We need your help!

The aim of the RCMI and QSRI initiatives is to reduce children's exposure to junk food marketing; however the weak rules allow signatories to use loopholes to get around the regulations year after year and needs to be stopped. Please let us know if our see an ad that markets junk food to kids.