The Checkout

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?

By Annys Shin |  November 15, 2006; 9:00 AM ET Kids Marketing
Previous: Hidden Charges? Nothing Some Earbuds Can't Fix | Next: Premiering Soon: Industrial Food Chain


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Until a kid is 18, their parents should be doing the controlling, not advertisers. Whatever happened to the word "No." And kids are porking out at McDonalds because that's where their moms take them after soccer practice.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | November 15, 2006 11:13 AM

Southern Maryland is absolutely correct! The government should stay out of the marketplace. It's the parents' responsibility, their job, their mandate to regulate what their kids watch, eat, do. It is not what the government should be doing. Give the parents the tools (i.e., information) and let them do their job!

Posted by: Southern California | November 15, 2006 2:07 PM

I agree with the previous commenters. The advertising industry is not responsible for children--parents are! We're fortunate that the ad companies are inclined to regulate themselves, since parents won't regulate their children's TV time.

Posted by: William | November 15, 2006 2:58 PM

I don't disagree with the previous commenters, but at least one or two of them seem to be conflating government with the ad industry. No one said anything about government regulation.

Posted by: T | November 15, 2006 3:08 PM

The lovely thing about the world is that everyone has a purpose. Advertisers promote products for the purpose of increasing sales. Parents raise children. These two purposes do not conflict or overlap in the slightest.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 15, 2006 6:47 PM

For uncensored news please bookmark:

Ohio's 2006 vote count now includes a higher percentage of uncounted ballots than in 2004, and a statistically impossible swing to the Republicans

By Bob Fitrakis, Harvey Wasserman and Ron Baiman

The percentage of uncounted votes in the allegedly "fraud free" 2006 Ohio election is actually higher than the fraud-ridden 2004 election, when the presidency was stolen here. A flawed voting process that allowed voters to be illegally turned away throughout the morning on Election Day may have cost the Dems at least two Congressional seats and a state auditor's seat.

The evidence comes directly from the official website of GOP Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell Blackwell website. But researchers wishing to verify the number of uncounted ballots from that web site should do so immediately, as Blackwell is known for quickly deleting embarrassing evidence. In 2004, Blackwell deleted the evidence of excessive uncounted votes after the final results were tallied.

Despite Democratic victories in five of six statewide partisan offices, an analysis by the Free Press shows a statistically implausible shift of votes away from the Democratic Party statewide candidates on Election Day, contrasted with the results of the Columbus Dispatch's final poll. The Dispatch poll predicted Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland winning with 67 percent of the vote. His actual percentage was 60 percent. The odds of this occurring are one in 604 million.

The final Columbus Dispatch poll wrapped up on Friday before the Tuesday election. This poll was based on 1541 registered Ohio voters, with a margin of error at plus/minus 2.2 percentage points and a 95 percent confidence interval. The Dispatch noted "The survey's 7-point variance from Democrat Ted Strickland's actual percentage total broke a string of five straight gubernatorial elections in which the poll exactly matched the victor's share of the vote."

The hotly disputed central Ohio congressional race between incumbent Deborah Pryce, a close friend of George W. Bush, and challenger Mary Jo Kilroy, a Democratic Franklin County Commissioner has not been officially resolved as of today, November 14. The Franklin County Board of Elections has postponed the official recount of this race until after the November 18 Ohio State-Michigan football game. Another bitterly disputed congressional race, on the outskirts of Cincinnati, also awaits a recount.

The major news leaking from the Blackwell web site is the stunning percentage of uncounted votes still outstanding throughout the state. When John Kerry conceded the day after the 2004 election, there were some 248,000 Ohio votes still uncounted, out of 5,722,443 officially cast. This was an astonishing 4.3 percent of the votes.

George W. Bush's alleged margin of victory at the time was about 136,000 votes, which dropped to about 118,000 after a fraudulent recount. More than two years later, more than 100,000 votes from Ohio's 2004 election remain uncounted, including 93,000 machine rejected ballots


Posted by: CHE | November 16, 2006 8:10 AM

Hello! The problem is that the parents ARE NOT saying NO! They give way too easy. I see it with my own friend's kids. It's pathetic. Makes me glad I'm single with no kids.

Posted by: Parents need backbones! | November 16, 2006 10:12 AM

I'm afraid I'm IN advertising and I disagree with most of the commentary here...

I've written professionally, & extensively on this issue and I can tell you there's MUCH more to the insidious tactics than any parent can 'say no' to.

It's too easy to 'blame the parents' when kids are targeted on cellphones, advergaming, in-school and out of our reach completely. It's not a matter of 'saying no' it's a matter of ethics, morality, and public health. I 'say no' to junk all the time, and my 'tween' STILL can buy chips and crud in her school lunch line, access vending machines with Gatorade sugar/water on campus, etc.

I just wrote about this on my site at, & you might also want to read my advergaming piece, "Kids Gobble Up Interactive Junk Food Marketing" archived at Common Sense Media.

The problem goes FAR beyond parent power. I'm about to do a huge piece on mobile marketing and in-school tactics...just to give you a hint.

Shaping Youth is a nonprofit group of MEDIA & MARKETING professionals concerned about harmful media messages to children.

We're NOT censorship-based, nor regulatory fanatics, but this is a public health issue. I serve on the county obesity task force and we're LITERALLY killing kids with this kind of pervasive 24/7 marketing. Enough!

Posted by: Amy Jussel | November 20, 2006 7:36 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company