Advertising laws still too soft on junk foods

RULES DESIGNED to clamp down on online advertising  junk food to children have been slammed.


Two years on from extending the non-broadcast advertising rules to cover websites and social media, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is failing children. Food companies also continue to exploit loopholes and advertise junk foods to children online, even though stronger broadcasting regulations prevent such advertising on children’s television.


The damning critique of the online advertising regulations comes in a new report by the Children’s Food Campaign, published today (April 29th).


The report, entitled “Through the Looking Glass”, describes the ASA’s “frustrating and time-consuming complaints process”, following the submission of multiple complaints which sought to hold companies to account for their exploitative marketing practices.


The campaign also found the regulator’s approach to be inconsistent, secretive and biased towards companies with the money and time to challenge rulings. The new Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code was also found to be “weak”.


This has all led to ASA accepting junk food sites directly appealing to children that: host TV adverts promoting junk food that would not be allowed on children’s television; feature child-friendly brand characters; use advergames that encourage children to eat junk food; and make misleading health or nutrition claims on sugary products.


An ASA spokeswoman said that while it shares the campaign’s “reasonable concerns” about protecting children, the organisations are on “a different page in terms of where we think the line should be drawn”. She added:


“Advertising self-regulation has a 50-year history of responding effectively and adapting to meet new challenges, such as online and digital. The rules have been tightened in response to evidence, including those for food.”


But campaign coordinator Malcolm Clark said the ASA and the CAP “act like Tweedledum and Tweedledee: ineffective, ridiculous and joined at the hip. In industry after industry – from MPs’ expenses, to phone-hacking, to banks, and now in online marketing – self-regulation has proven to be a failed model. More of the same is not what is needed to protect children’s health or to give parents more help in making healthy choices for their family.”