Junk Food Injunction- Latest Edition
Message from the Editors
In Australia, besides provisions in the Children’s Television Standards about advertising to children during C- and P-rated programs, all other times for television advertising and other media are covered by voluntary self-regulatory initiatives. In 2009, the food industry set up the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative and the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative to “reduce advertising and marketing to children for food and drinks that are not healthier choices”. There is no monitoring program for these initiatives therefore we are reliant on complaints to the Advertising Standards Board and the resultant ruling to identify ads of particular concern to the public.
In this edition we summarise the complaints against the food industry initiatives in the last year.
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The past year has seen more complaints upheld than in recent years with four breaches of the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative and one breach of the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative upheld. Overall, looking just at complaints lodged with the Advertising Standards Board about food marketing to children there were ten complaints involving grocery ads and four involving fast food companies. There was a range of media identified, with ten of the ads on television, one regarding a billboard, one in a newspaper and two involving application software (apps).
Kellogg’s was caught out three times during the year with the Board finding that an ad for the breakfast cereal Coco Pops (case 0144/13*) and two LCMs snack bars ads (case 1079/13* and 0180/13*) did not depict the product in the context of a healthy lifestyle that would encourage good dietary habits. All advertisements featured children and imagination-based themes; the Coco Pops ad had the cereal playing the game Marco Polo in a breakfast bowl and the LCMs ads both showed a child’s imagination come to life in the form of cartoon snails in the garden and a boy morphing into a dinosaur. The three ads could not be saved by the fruit-containing lunch box or bowl as the Board ruled that the presence of a piece of fruit or other ‘healthy’ foods is not enough to encourage good dietary habits.
The fourth complaint, for Mondelez Oreos (case 0247/13*), was upheld following an appeal by the complainant on the original decision to dismiss the complaint. The ad featured various cartoon characters eating an Oreo cookie and changing the way they behave (for example a wolf is shown about to blow down a house containing three pigs but after eating the Oreo he changes to blowing the sail of a boat he is sharing with the pigs). In its first decision the Board said that the themes would be appealing to children but the rapid appearance and disappearance and the stylised nature of the cartoon characters would mean that young children would not connect with the characters. However, following the appeal, Board members ruled that based on their own experiences with children the music and visuals would be attractive to children and as Oreos are not a healthy dietary choice the ad breached the initiative.
The only complaint upheld under the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative was a television ad for McDonald’s featuring characters from the Despicable Me 2 movie advertising Happy Meals (case 0244/13*). The ad was considered to breach the initiative because it did not include messaging that encouraged physical activity. The Board said that “the portrayal of the characters in the TVC performing an active task (being the act of painting, particularly the painting of large spaces) was not itself a message that was promoting or encouraging physical activity to the target audience of children”.
Several common themes come up in the complaints that highlight concerns that are not covered by the initiatives.
1. The advertisement is not ‘primarily directed to children under 12’.
Some ads were ruled attractive to children but the initiative requires that they are ‘primarily’ directed to children. In those cases the Board found that while they might appeal to children they were directed to the main grocery buyer. Some examples from last year are the Smith’s Popped Snacks ad featuring Mr Potato head from Toy Story (case 0190/13*) and the LCMs Split Stix ad (case 0237/13*) with a boy throwing a paper plane in a school classroom.
2. The product is considered healthy under company defined criteria
The Streets Paddle Pop Trop-o-saurus Slime ad (case 0140/13*) was deemed to be directed to children and shown in the children’s television show Totally Wild however the product is considered a healthy dietary choice within Unilever’s (the parent company) Action Plan therefore it meets the requirements within the initiative. We’ve tested it against a government based criteria and don’t agree. With seventeen different Company Action Plans that’s a lot of different criteria that are used to define healthy.
3. The ad is not covered by the initiative
In two cases the ads that were complained about were not covered by the Responsible Children's Marketing Initiative. The first case was a billboard advertisement for a Magnum icecream (case 0126/13*) as billboards are not within the definition of media. The second case was a product-based (LCMs) app (case 0237/13*) and because company-owned websites and apps were not considered to be paid advertising they are not covered by the initiative. From the start of 2014 all internet sites are covered by the initiative although billboards still sit outside the definition of media.
Under the requirements outlined in the initiative, the advertisement must be directed primarily to children, and/or appear in a medium directed primarily to children and/or appear in a medium which attracts an audience share of greater than 50%.
Three KFC ad complaints were dismissed in 2013 because while they may appeal to children they did not meet those explicit criteria. These ads were:
- A television ad for a family meal (case 0188/13*) that shows a son copying his dad’s every move;
- An ad for chicken pieces, chicken nuggets, potato and gravy, chips and dipping sauces, much more than any child should eat, in a newspaper lift-out during the school holidays (case 0356/13*). The lift-out was titled ‘School’s Out!’ and was surrounded by characters from recently released children’s movies.
- The KFC ‘Snack in the Face’ app (case 0383/13*), a very easy to use game similar to the popular app ‘Angry Birds’ where popcorn chicken is fired into the Colonel’s mouth. Stages of the game feature adventure scenarios including a ‘secret lab’ and a ‘volcano lava lair’. The Board considered that the visuals in the game would be attractive to children, but not of primary attraction to children. Considering the ‘Colonel’ is still featured on packaging and store signage so very much still a part of the brand, the Board made an interesting comment. The Board said that “children under 14 are unlikely to be particularly aware that the man in the game is Colonel Sanders or of his relationship with KFC given the changed marketing for KFC in the last 20 years - compared to the advertising from 1970s–1990s where the product Kentucky Fried Chicken was inherently linked to the Colonel.”
Restricting the marketing of unhealthy foods to children is a global priority to lower the incidence of non-communicable disease such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. While Australia has progressed little since 2009, there have been developments around the world with some government mandated initiatives. Take a look at this summary from the World Cancer Research Fund International to find out the latest on what other countries are doing.
*All case reports from the Advertising Standards Board can be viewed here.