Ad industry hits back at charity attack on watchdog

The advertising industry has branded pressure group the Children’s Food Campaign “self-righteous” for accusing regulators of failing to protect children from the online marketing tactics of food companies.

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The ASA has been accused of not doing enough to protect children from online marketing from food companies.

The advertising trade body ISBA says the lobby group is “living in Wonderland” after its ‘Through the Looking Glass’ report accused the Advertising Standards Authority of being “unwilling” and “unable” to regulate brands targeting children online.

The Children’s Food Campaign has called on ministers to implement statutory regulations to clamp down on food companies it says are exploiting loop holes to continue advertising junk food to children online. The initiative, which is backed by the British Medical Association, Diabetes UK and the National Obesity Forum, argues for tougher regulations on branded games that encourage children to eat junk food and greater control over how child-friendly brand characters are used online.

Campaigners claim self-regulation through the ASA has proven to be a “failed model” and laws introduced two years ago to cover websites and social media have failed to keep up with the digital world. It also blamed the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), an industry body set up to advise advertisers on how to meet regulations, as the “root” of the issue.

The advertising industry trade body ISBA has dismissed the accusations as “nonsense” and says the ASA is effective in policing its “strict and appropriate” rules .

Ian Twinn, director of public affairs for ISBA, adds: “Once again we have a PR campaign from an anti-food pressure group which is self-righteous in its belief that it speaks for public concerns. It doesn’t; most people rightly expect to have proactive and balanced support from ad rules to guide and protect children, but they do not want to be told by extremists what types of foods should be banned and that allowing their children sweets and snacks is fundamentally wrong. To believe that de-commercialisation of the internet is a coherent form of protecting children, is to be out of touch to the point of living in Wonderland.

“Society needs to empower us all to eat responsibly, modify our diets to fit in with our lifestyles and this will not be achieved by hectoring and self-righteous lecturing.  We all need to work together with a long term and consistent set of messages… a PR campaign trotted out every six months does nothing to address the serious issue of childhood obesity.”

A spokesman for the ASA says while the organisation shares the Children’s Food Campaign’s “reasonable concerns” about protecting children, it is on a “different page” in terms of where it thinks the “line should be drawn”.

He adds: “The advertising food rules surrounding children are deliberately strict, but proportionate and based on the best available evidence. Advertising self-regulation has a 50 year history of responding effectively and adapting to meet new challenges, such as online and digital.

“The rules have been tightened in response to evidence, including those for food, and we continue to monitor how they are working so that advertising remains responsible and children continue to be protected.”

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