Should the 30-Year-Old Guidelines Governing Kids Marketing Be Revised?
How vigorous should the advertising industry be in policing itself, particularly when it comes to promotions aimed at children? That's the question that will be at the heart of the debate soon to be underway by a new task force just named to review the industry's 30-year-old self-regulatory guidelines on children's advertising.
To lead the review, the Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) has tapped a longtime Washingtonian attorney, Joan Z. (Jodie) Bernstein, who headed the Federal Trade Commission's consumer protection division during the Clinton administration.
The broad review comes two months after a prestigious national science panel called on the industry to revise and expand its guidelines for governing the marketing of food and beverages to children. Noting that most food products promoted to children were high in calories, sugar, salt and fat and low in nutrients, the Institute of Medicine said there was strong evidence linking television advertising to obesity.
CARU has become a central issue in the debate about children's advertising, with food companies and advertising firms pointing to CARU as proof that the industry is being careful about what it promotes to children, noting that CARU has made sure such ads are truthful, accurate and age-appropriate.
But CARU's critics say that that's not enough--it's time for CARU to play a more active role in policing ads aimed at children, perhaps even limiting certain products that can be advertised to kids, such as highly sugared sodas or cereal. The critics also say the guidelines are out of date since they don't address a lot of the current ways companies are using to attract kids, such as advergaming, where kids can play online games featuring Cheetos or M&M's, in-school promotions or special marketing events.
All those issues and more will be on the table--and all interested parties will be invited to give their thoughts in what Bernstein has promised to be a thorough review of the 30-year-old guidelines. Bernstein has also promised results in about four months--a tall order for the nation's smallest consumers. The bottom line, however, will still be up to the industry since these are voluntary standards run for, and by, the industry.
February 6, 2006; 10:00 AM ET
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