Kids Ad Cop Has a New Stick
So the long-awaited revised guidelines for children's advertising are finally here.
It only took the advertising industry more than 30 years to write a full revision of the guidelines, which are used to make sure ads aimed at kids under age 12 are truthful, accurate and appropriate.
The job of policing children's advertising falls to the Children's Advertising Review Unit, which, even though it was created by the ad industry, is run as part of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. It's a self-regulatory body. That means the industry sets the standards.
Things were no different this time around. Representatives of more than 40 companies participated in updating the guidelines. Jodie Bernstein, a former head of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, handled the task of herding all those cats.
The result was to update the guidelines by requiring companies, for example, to identify advertising in online interactive games.
Some of the changes are more subtle, such as requiring companies to show mealtime foods in the context of a balanced meal instead of a balanced diet.
Aware of the concern about marketing unhealthy food to children, CARU went beyond the guidelines and got 10 food and beverage companies to agree to devote at least half their advertising to promoting healthy foods or lifestyles. The 10 companies account for two-thirds of food and beverage televesion advertising directed at kids. They are McDonald's, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Cadbury Schweppes USA, Campbell Soup, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, and PepsiCo.)
CARU got high marks for the agreement from some public health experts. But critics of kids marketing were disappointed, to put it mildly.
"Self-regulation is just another word for letting the fox regulate the chicken coop, which, of course, leads to dead chickens," said Gary Ruskin, executive director Commercial Alert.
Ruskin would like to see the incoming Congress pass laws against marketing to children.
Now, some companies have managed to take steps to change how they market to children, which have earned kudos from even the toughest critics. Kraft and Disney are the two most-often cited.
But Ruskin and others have a fundamental problem with self-regulation: It's voluntary.
The companies have six to nine months to set their goals under the voluntary initiative and CARU says it will let everyone know if they have kept their word. So will we. The goals will be public.
Here's what they have to live up to:
* At least half their advertising has to promote foods that fit the FDA's definition of healthy or encourage kids to lead healthy lifestyles.
* The companies have to limit products shown in interactive games, aka advergaming, to healthy choices, or incorporate messages that promote regular physical activity.
* They can't pay for product placement in content aimed at kids.
* They can't advertise in elementary schools.
* They have to reduce their use of third-party licensed characters, such as SpongeBob or Shrek, in advertising products or messages that don't meet the above guidelines.
J. Michael McGinnis, who served as chair of the Institute of Medicine's Children's Food Marketing Committee, called the new guidelines and the voluntary effort "a move in the right direction" and if the companies do as they promise, "a pretty substantial change."
The voluntary initiative in particular tracks with recommendations the IOM made last year that no licensed characters be used for marketing of unhealthful products and that the preponderance of advertising be focused on healthful ones.
Critics think the guidelines don't mean much because they don't ban Ronald McDonald, for instance, from going into schools to encourage kids to exercise.
(McDonald's, by the way, doesn't consider this a form of marketing.)
If you see violations to these new guidelines, you can file a complaint with CARU online or call 866-334-6272, ext.111.
What do you think? Will the new guidelines and the effort by food and beverage advertisers lead to meaningful changes? Or will kids get the idea fries are healthy?
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Southern Maryland | November 15, 2006 11:13 AM
Posted by: Southern California | November 15, 2006 2:07 PM
Posted by: William | November 15, 2006 2:58 PM
Posted by: T | November 15, 2006 3:08 PM
Posted by: Anonymous | November 15, 2006 6:47 PM
Posted by: CHE | November 16, 2006 8:10 AM
Posted by: Parents need backbones! | November 16, 2006 10:12 AM
Posted by: Amy Jussel | November 20, 2006 7:36 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.