Food and drink giants commit to further ad restrictions as WHO ramps up pressure

An alliance of global food and drink giants including Coca-Cola, Nestle and Mondelez has expanded its voluntary restrictions on the advertising of sugary drinks and fatty foods to children to cover all media, a move that comes as the pledge’s recipient, the World Health Organisation (WHO), calls on national Governments to close the loopholes that mean children continue to be exposed to ads. 

In a letter to the WHO’s director general Dr. Margaret Chan, the International Food & Beverage Alliance (IFBA), an 11-strong group that also counts McDonald’s and Unilever as members, promises to extend its ban on promoting products high in sugar, salt and fat to under 12s to outdoor, mobile and SMS marketing, cinema ads, interactive games, DVD/CD-ROMs and product placements.

It will also extend the 2009 agreement to cover the use of licensed characters, movie tie-ins and celebrities that appeal to under-12s in marketing campaigns.

IFBA, which was formed in 2008 to demonstrate the food and drink industry’s commitment to helping the WHO realise its health and wellbeing strategy, has also vowed to develop what the IFBA describes as “better for you” ranges using a single set of nutritional guidelines for the first time it says will be then offered to under-12s as an alternative to unhealthy options.

The new standards, which can be read in full here, will come into place by the end of 2016. All 11 IFBA members, which account for the bulk of the multi-billion spent on food and drink ads, will use them as minimum standards and encourage other food and drink companies to adopt them.

The World Federation of Advertisers, which describes itself as the “expert marketing to children partner” to IFBA and also shares many of the same members, says the expansion demonstrates the advertising industry is taking its responsibilities seriously.

Stephan Loerke, managing director of the WFA says: “The major food and beverage companies have strict controls in place on how they communicate with younger audiences. This latest strengthening of the IFBA global policy demonstrates the extent to which IFBA members are taking their responsibilities seriously when it comes to marketing to children.”

In the UK, there is currently no prohibition of mobile/SMS,radio or cinema advertising in the Committee of Advertising’s broadcast or non-broadcast codes. The Advertising Standards Authority, which decides whether CAP codes have been broken, is currently looking at whether restrictions on product marketing using interactive games are necessary.

However, most major companies have internal marketing codes that ban the use of such channels. All IFBA members have also signed up to the voluntary “EU Pledge”, a European Union-wide 2012 agreement to only promote  to under-12s food and drink that meets specific nutrition criteria. IFBA uses the same “directed to children under 12 means advertising in measured media where 35 per cent or more of the audience is under 12 years of age” definition of advertising to children as the EU Pledge.

Ian Barber, communications director at the Advertising Association, says: “UK standards are typically at the cutting edge, so the reality will be little or no change for marketers as a result of this global announcement.  It is yet more evidence, however, that responsible marketing to children is at the top of advertising’s agenda.”

In a separate document last week, the WHO called on Governments worldwide to do more to restrict children’s viewing of food marketing. It expressed concern in sympathy with claims made by groups such as the UK’s Children’s Food Campaign that not enough is being done to protect children online and during what is seen as adult programming but has an appeal to children.

“In light of evidence from the UK and other countries worldwide, WHO has recommended that governments play a leading role in reducing children’s overall exposure to food marketing and setting rules on the persuasive techniques companies can use, with a view to protecting children from the adverse impacts of marketing,” it adds.

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