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Advertising Standards Authority condemned for failing to protect children online from food company marketing


By Stephen Lepitak, -

April 29, 2013 | 4 min read

The Advertising Standards Authority has been accused of failing to protect children from been targeted by food companies in a report released by The Children’s Food Campaign.

The report, entitled Through the Looking Glass, has claimed that the ASA is yet to get to grips with its extended role over patrolling online and social media marketing campaigns, where it also suggests that companies aim to ‘exploit’ loopholes to advertise their products to children.

Also claimed by the Campaign is that the regulator was “inconsistent”, “secretive” and “biased towards companies with money”. It also said that the ASA did not “properly understand the digital world.”

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), an organisation set-up to help guide agencies and brands in developing marketing campaigns to fit regulations, was blamed as being the “root” of the issue.

It was claimed that CAP lead the ASA to accept TV adverts promoting junk food, child friendly brand characters, advergames which promoted junk food to children and the acceptance of misleading health or nutrition claims.

Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, said that parents needed strong guidance when dealing with protecting their children in an online environment from commercial interests.

“The ASA has proved itself unwilling and unable to fulfil this role,” he added.

“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.”

“In the meantime, those on the ASA Council and CAP Committees have to step up and improve the performance of their organisations. They should heed the report’s findings as they conduct their own official two year review of the online remit extension.”

A spokesperson for the ASA, commented: "We share CFC’s reasonable concerns about protecting children; that sits at the heart of our work and the Advertising Codes. But we are on a different page in terms of where we think the line should be drawn. The advertising food rules surrounding children are deliberately strict, but proportionate and based on the best available evidence.

"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, and we continue to monitor how they are working so that advertising remains responsible and children continue to be protected."

Ian Twinn, director of public affairs for ISBA was critical of the report, stating: “Once again we have a PR campaign from an anti-food pressure group which is self-righteous in its belief that it speaks for public concerns. It doesn’t; most people rightly expect to have proactive and balanced support from ad rules to guide and protect children, but they do not want to be told by extremists what types of foods should be banned and that allowing their children sweets and snacks is fundamentally wrong. To believe that de-commercialisation of the internet is a coherent form of protecting children, is to be out of touch to the point of living in Wonderland.”


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