Which? report slammed for being “out of date”

The food and advertising industries have slammed a Which? report into the use of kids cartoon characters to promote “junk” food for being “out of date” and “bizarre”. The report, which was released today (August 21), warns food companies that using the characters could harm their brands.

The Cartoon Heroes and Villains report criticises companies for using Spider-Man, Shrek, and The Simpsons to promote products, as well as characters that brands have created themselves, such as Kellogg’s Coco the Monkey. It “names and shames” a number of companies including Weetabix for using the Happy Feet Penguin on boxes of Wheetos and Nestlé for using Spider-Man on its Nesquick-flavoured cereal.

However, it does say it found examples of the characters being used to promote healthy products such as Winnie the Pooh on a bag of Tesco clementines and SpongeBob SquarePants (pictures), which is owned by Viacom, on Volvic mineral water.

Which? says that three-quarters of parents believe that the use of cartoon characters to promote foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) is irresponsible and should be stopped. Sue Davies, Which? chief policy officer, says: “There are precious few example of cartoon characters being used to promote healthy products.”

But the Food and Drink Federation, which represents food and drink manufacturers, has hit back at the report pointing out that the industry introduced a voluntary code to stop the use of licensed characters for non-broadcast advertising following the introduction of the TV ban.

Julian Hunt, FDF director of communications, says: “The report is bizarre given that the UK already has some of the strictest regulations in the world when it comes to advertising and promoting foods and dink products to children, and the industry is fully complying with these rules.”

The Advertising Association dismisses the report because “the conclusions drawn are no longer relevant”. Sue Eustace, AA director of public affairs, adds: “The analysis shown in the report took place between March and June 2007 before the advertising codes were changed in July 1 2007.”

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