Ten of the larger food and beverage marketers have banded together to create the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. This industry self-regulatory group will fall under the jurisdiction of the National Advertising Review Council, small comfort for advocates to reduce children's exposure to advertising for foods and beverages that are believed to be contributing to the nation's obesity epidemic. [The NARC is the same body that includes the Children's Advertising Research Unit, whose poor performance in regulating advertising to children has been the subject of earlier stories and that will also oversee this Initiative.]
Under the terms of the Initiative, participating companies commit to:
- Devote at least half their advertising directed to children on television, radio, print and Internet to promote healthier dietary choices and/or to messages that encourage good nutrition or healthy lifestyles.
- Limit products shown in interactive games to healthier dietary choices, or incorporate healthy lifestyle messages into the games.
- Not advertise food or beverage products in elementary schools.
- Not engage in food and beverage product placement in editorial and entertainment content.
- Reduce the use of third-party licensed characters in advertising that does not meet the Initiative's product or messaging criteria.
The guidelines include 'shoulds' and 'should nots' on Deception, Product Presentations and Claims, Material Disclosures and Disclaimers, Endorsements, Blurring of Advertising and Editorial/Program Content, Premiums, Kids’ Clubs, Sweepstakes and Contests, Online Sales, Sales Pressure, Unsafe and Inappropriate Advertising to Children, and On-Line Privacy Protections sections for children under the age of 13. There are no changes being made to the current monitoring, reporting and enforcement procedures of the NARC.
Comments on the plan include: "I thought they were going to come up with something that was somewhat responsive to the problem," said Michael Jacobson, head for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy group. "It's pretty pathetic."
Deborah Platt Majoras, the Federal Trade Commission chairwoman, said the guidelines were "important steps."
Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, a consumer advocacy group ... "Self-regulation has been a dreadful failure for decades," Ruskin said. "This is more of the same."
Brandweek coverage: Susan Linn, co-founder of the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, blasted the efforts as "the clearest indication yet that, when it comes to marketing to children, self-regulation has failed. In the midst of an epidemic of childhood obesity, the industry has proposed a series of guidelines for junk-food advertising that are window dressing at best."
Gary Ruskin... dismissed the effort out of hand. "Junk food marketers are dreaming if they think they can halt tough new laws against marketing to children," said Ruskin, who called on the next Congress to swiftly pass the Parents' Bill of Rights, which, among other provisions, would revoke the federal tax deduction for advertising to children under 12.