Labour MP Tom Watson has taken aim at the cereal industry's use of cartoon mascots to attract the attention of children. Speaking at an Advertising Association (AA) event Wednesday 30 January, Watson said the use of these mascots to sell high-sugar cereal was “grossly irresponsible” and was driving childhood obesity.
Labour's deputy leader urged the advertising industry to get its house in order - or expect regulation if the party takes power in the next general election. Watson, in particular, took a swing at Kellogg's mascots like Frosties' Tony the Tiger, and Coco Pops' Coco the Monkey in his speech.
Pointing to both packets, he told the audience: "You would call this packaging. I would call this irresponsible advertising. They are billboards on tabletops aimed at tiny tots – and it should be regulated."
He added: "We need radical changes on marketing food."
Watson said: “[We are] a nation overweight, unhealthy and addicted to sugar – thanks in large part to the efforts of the advertising industry. As politicians and policymakers, we are saying, get that monkey off your back. If the industry won’t reform itself, we will do it for you.”
He asked if current cereal ads will age as poorly as the infamous 7 Up creative from the 1950s where a baby slugged the soda.
Watson pointed out a 100g serving of Frosties contains 37g of sugar. To combat this, Kellogg's has previously sought to court favour with parents by launching low sugar varieties of its most popular products.
He credited a recent campaign from ITV and Veg Power for using the power of advertising to demote a healthy lifestyle. Ending on an optimistic note, he concluded: "The country needs your work to drive positive change."
A Kellogg's spokesperson responded: “We think people know that we’ve been working hard to offer healthier choices in the morning – we’ve slashed sugar in Coco Pops by 40%, removed high-sugar Ricicles from sale and dropped the sugar in Rice Krispies too. At the same time, we’ve introduced new transparent labelling so people can make their own mind up about what they want to buy or not.”
It comes as TfL bans junk food advertising from its network in an attempt to also reduce bad influences on commutes.
Additional reporting from Jen Faull