November 13th, 2005

UK Child Food Adverts Face Ban on Celebs

By John Ungoed-Thomas
Sunday Times (of London)

Celebrities and popular cartoon characters may be banned from adverts and marketing campaigns that encourage children to eat junk food.

Curbs on the £100m-a-year business are proposed in a Department of Health advisory document that says: “Role models for children should not be used to endorse or personally to promote products (high in fat, salt or sugar) or promotional offers to children.”

It may spell the end for campaigns such as the Walkers crisps advertisements starring Gary Lineker, from which he earns £1.5m a year, and David Beckham’s £1m-a-year appearances for Pepsi.

The use of cartoon characters such as The Incredibles to promote Golden Nuggets cereal, and Spider-Man to endorse Penguin biscuits also face the axe.

The proposals have been drawn up by members of the government’s food and drink advertising and promotion forum, which is reviewing the voluntary codes for cinema advertisements, internet campaigns and product packaging aimed at children under 12.

Ofcom, the broadcast regulator, is considering similar restrictions on television commercials and will announce its proposals within the next two months.

Health campaigners want a total ban on advertising junk foods to children. They believe voluntary codes will leave “wriggle room” for manufacturers, who will still be allowed to use celebrities to promote “healthy” foods and balanced diets. Under guidelines drawn up by the Food Standards Agency some brands of sliced white bread and chicken tikka masala are classified as “healthier choices”.

Andrew Brown, director-general of the Advertising Association, and a member of the government’s forum, said the industry accepted that celebrities and cartoon characters would no longer be used to encourage children to eat foods high in fat, salt and sugar.

“Obesity is a big problem and the advertising industry wants to be part of the solution,” he said.

The proposed curbs are outlined in a discussion document. They include a crackdown on promotional gifts and state that children should not be encouraged to buy products solely to obtain a promotional product. They also say food and drink companies should not exploit the “credulity” or “inexperience” of children.

A loophole will allow Ronald McDonald, the McDonald’s clown, and Tony the Tiger, who promotes Kellogg’s Frosties, to escape the restrictions. According to the document there is a difference between “brand-generated” characters and those that are licensed from films and television programmes.

Ofcom is also considering restrictions on the times at which certain categories of advertising may be shown. This is likely to bar some food commercials from being screened during children’s viewing times in the afternoon and at weekends.

Advertisers are already anticipating tougher rules. The two most recent campaigns featuring Gary Lineker for Walkers crisps have involved his promoting a pedometer to encourage people to exercise and highlighting the use of sunflower oil to cut saturated fat content.

However, many companies are likely to defend their campaigns, arguing that they do not target young children. A spokesman for Walkers crisps said none of its advertising targeted children under 12. Pepsi also said its campaigns did not target children under 12.

The Republic of Ireland imposed a ban last year on using celebrities for advertisements screened during children’s programming.

In Sweden and Norway all food advertisements are banned during the breaks in children’s television.

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