Vox Pop: the future of marketing sugar to children

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

The marketing industry is readying itself for an expected ban on advertising sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks to children online through social media, computer games and cartoon characters.

The Sunday Times reports that “senior industry figures” expect the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) to soon propose a ban on advertising sugary and fatty foods to children online. What does this mean for brands advertising sugary products? The Drum Network asks its members, what does the future of marketing sugar look like?

Nick Livermore, marketing manager, Digital Visitor

Personally, I’m against a blanket ban on sugar marketing and I don’t think it would ever happen. Sugar is brilliant. How many childhoods has sugar come to define? And I mean positively define. Millions. A blanket ban, and the implications of that – though a ‘sugar crash’ would never happen – could take all that away.

What I do advocate, however, is responsible advertising. Advertising after 9pm; not marketing sugary drink/food using tools like cartoon characters and games; and, certainly not promoting the purported health benefits of products like Ribena and Coke. It’s preposterous.

But irresponsible marketing is only a small part of the problem. What’s far more important is that we develop an understanding, through more effective education, of healthy eating and that, despite having various nutritional advantages, drinking a bottle of Ribena isn’t healthy, it’s a treat.

A move to responsible marketing could, therefore, free up advertising space for genuinely healthier foods. I don’t think there’ll be a ‘new sugar’, but we could soon see a shift in pre-watershed and online advertising towards a healthier spectrum of eating.

Lyndsay Snoddon, content strategist, Caliber

My first thought was: will this mean the death of some of our favourite sugar-coated characters? What’s to be of Tony the Tiger and the Honey Monster? Their potential fate may be devastating for those of us who have grown to know and love them.

Funeral arrangements aside, I don’t believe the limitations will have as big an impact on the industry as we fear. The demand for sugar will always exist, we’re pre wired to want it. Marketers will be challenged to ask themselves what their brand stands for. If they can’t talk about the product they’ll have to talk about the brand itself. In coming years we will see more of this as we did when the ASA tightened the reigns on alcohol advertising. We saw massive alcohol brands like Guinness, whose advertising was renowned for boasting product benefits, make a cataclysmic shift towards brand awareness campaigns. And with great success.

I also think we’ll see more brands focussing on the social good of their products. The sugar content of Innocent Smoothies for example, is masked behind their brand promise ‘Tastes Good. Does Good’ - focussing more on how they as a brand give back. In other words, don’t expect a sugar crash any time soon, as always marketers will just get smarter.

Matt Clark, client relationship director, Key

In principle the idea is good and links nicely to Jamie Oliver’s work of trying to introduce a sugar tax on soft drinks. The state of the nation’s health depends on it, both in terms of our collective waistline, as well as the burden on the NHS.

I could see advertisers moving to providing more product placement in the actual television programmes themselves. The software is already there and being used in mainstream television to add a car and a 48 sheet billboard promoting that vehicle, as the live footage carries on in the foreground. What is to stop advertisers being allowed to pop a strategically placed snack within the live footage of a CBBC show for example, all extra revenue for ‘Auntie’ too.

Eli Zheleva, SEO specialist, Vertical Leap

Regardless of the bans, the big sugar companies will still be around. If you take Coca Cola and McDonald’s, for example, there’s no way they will disappear from the public space. The first reason that springs to mind is that they sponsor global events, such as FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games. This is an interesting paradox - as sport events, the aforementioned promote healthy lifestyle. At the same time, they are being sponsored by companies, whose products are bad for your health.

The real problem though is not whether or not those brands will be allowed to advertise. The problem is that children and adults alike are lacking knowledge to make the right choice with or without ads being present. Maybe the CAP needs to run educational programmes to reiterate the healthy eating benefits. After all, people are more receptive when you’re encouraging them to do something, rather than banning them from doing something. Also, there’s a risk to position the fatty products as the forbidden fruit, which will naturally increase the temptation for people to eat such food.

Michael Moszynski, CEO, LONDON Advertising

Obesity rates have almost quadrupled in the last 25 years, with 23% of British people now obese – a figure 50% higher than the rest of the EU. The World Health Organisation reports that by 2030 74% of men and 64% of women in UK will be overweight.

The biggest single cause of this is due to the fact that over 2 million tonnes of sugar is added by manufacturers to the food and drink we consume. This is the equivalent to 500,000,000,000 teaspoons of sugar. The World Health Authority and the NHS recommend that the daily maximum intake of added sugar is no more than 6 teaspoons per person, per day.

However our average daily intake is 19 teaspoons. (And ‘teaspoons’ is a term that everyone can understand.)

We would like to suggest the Chancellor that he levies a 1p tax per teaspoon of added sugar to food or drinks sold in the UK which would generate £5bn a year and fill the £4.4bn hole in his budget caused by maintaining working tax credits. The £600m balance can be used to help eradicate childhood obesity where education is critical. To this end LONDON Advertising has designed a new packaging standard using, yes you guessed it, a ‘teaspoon’ icon which clearly shows the amount of added sugar on a product.

£5bn also, co-incidentally, represents the annual cost to the NHS of treating obesity.

A 1p tax on added sugar would add 10p to the price of a typical fizzy drink and is surely a small price to pay for safeguarding the health of future generations as well as retaining tax credits for the most hard pressed of the UK’s working population.

Simon Lamey, senior planner, Southpaw

We’re looking at a future where brands have to take more of a moral and responsible stance on marketing sugar to children. With sugar, the danger is in the dose (not the dose itself). Brands that create and communicate sugary products for occasional treats for special occasions (and not everyday treats) should win – an attitude in tune with modern consumer healthy eating trends. The future is not bright for brands ignoring this trend and is only going to attract consumer, press and regulatory backlashes. Instead, this also means new product investments in healthier product SKUs or finding sugar alternatives to existing products. Ultimately, who really wants to market sugar irresponsibly to children? A stronger moral and responsible stance is really the only option.

Debbie Harvey, strategic director, Kolab

The subject of sugar and fat in foods and how we advertise those is part of a much larger and scarier picture. Sugar is in pretty much everything we consume from baked beans to bread and everything in between, it’s high up in the ingredients of many savoury foods and often in surprising measures.

Syndicate promoted the product Mattersons Fridge Raiders to his youthful following with an innovative campaign to build a device that allowed you to indulge in non stop gaming, fuelling with those little sausages along the way. I admired many things about that campaign, but never forgot that it was to drive up sales of a product that clearly wouldn’t meet one of the five a day!

Parents could do with less of the negative external influences if they are to promote healthy alternatives. If we are moving to an imminent online ban in advertising, what happens to product positioning in store. Moving those sweety treats to higher shelves would always keep them out of reach of sticky fingers. I think we need to think about the entire customer journey here to really solve the issue. Sugary drinks have been promoted for decades, take the early promos of Cola, for example, ‘For a better start in life start cola earlier!' It will take more than an advertising ban to fix the addiction to sugar. As long as we produce sugary drinks and sweets, there will always be the demand. When I think back to the favourite things I consumed as a kid, opal fruits still make my mouth water!

Frank Whiffen, head of strategic business development, Ferrier Pearce

You have to take sugar with a pinch of salt, figuratively that is.

Like anything, sugar is okay in moderation. However, there’s certainly good, bad and ugly sugars out there.

The good ones are the new innovations in the sweetener market such as Stevia which you might recognise from products such as CocaCola Life; natural is certainly marketable! The bad sugars are the high-fluctose and the ugly are the synthesised chemical sugars like Aspartame (E951). I see these as being frowned upon in the future in the same way that saturated fats are.

I think we’ll see FMCG companies marketing natural sugars as a real selling point, perhaps adopting a traffic light system or crests of approval that enables consumers to see what types of sugars are in their products. Consumers want to be ingredients savvy and know what they’re consuming. I also predict that technology will play a part in monitoring the products we ingest for a healthier balanced lifestyle. We’ve seen this with the rise of wearable tech, so the marriage between wearable and smartphone tech will bring us some exciting innovations.

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