The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) will survey food ads, particularly online, to identify whether it needs to tighten up regulation as well as take action against advertisers found to be flouting the rules.
It has also joined forces with Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) to commission a study of the impact of digital and online marketing of food and drink products to children. Measures will be developed depending on the findings, which are scheduled for release at the end of 2014.
The ASA says the number of complaints it receives about food ads is low, but it recognises that the “impact of food advertising is part of a wider public health debate about current levels of obesity”. The Government was first to defend its Change4Life social marketing initiative earlier this year (14 January) after it was criticised by the National Obesity Forum for not being as hard-hitting as anti-smoking ads to curb rising obesity rates.
The so-called “sense check” from the ASA follows more general concerns about the amount of inappropriate content children are exposed to online, particularly through mobile apps. Concerns leveled at the food industry, however, have been muted to date with one of the more high-profile cases involving a Weetabix online game being banned last February for making kids feel inferior.
Ian Twinn, director public affairs at advertising trade body ISBA, welcomed the move adding it would bring clarity to the “evolving online and digital environment” and help brands ”maintain their already high rate of compliance”.
He adds: “Advertisers operate to strict rules and codes of practice to ensure that their messages are delivered responsibly, especially in relation to children. All the evidence shows that these measures are working. However, the environment in which we all consume ads is ever changing so we recognise the importance of focusing new research on the impact of digital and online marketing.”