Cross-promotions replace TV junk-food advertising

Posted by Josette Dunn on 3rd March 2010

Restrictions on food television commercials aimed at children may have reduced the number of kids’ TV food ads, but children are still being targeted with cross-promotional tactics and product placement.

Donut Boy

According to a study from Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, cross-promotions on food packaging aimed at children nearly doubled between 2006 and 2008 in the US.

The US, the UK and Australia have all taken steps to restrict food advertising targeting children, particularly junk food advertising, to promote healthy eating and combat rising obesity among children.

In 2006, the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) in the US launched the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, a self-regulatory mechanism “aimed at shifting the mix of advertising messaging directed to children under 12 to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles” – including “reducing the use of third-party licensed characters in advertising primarily directed to children under 12”.

Researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity assessed 397 products that used cross-promotions – including use of “third-party licensed characters, as well as tie-ins with other television shows and movies, athletes, sports teams and events, theme parks, toys and games, and charities”. They found that over the three year period (2006 – 2008) the number of products using youth-oriented cross-promotions increased by 78%.

The study said that of all the foods being promoted, only 18 per cent met accepted nutrition standards for foods sold to youth, raising concerns that the initiatives of the CBBB are not having the desired effect, and stricter legislative changes are required.

The authors concluded: “Many consider this initial focus on industry self-regulation to be a trial period to ascertain the industry’s true commitment to improve public health. A continued absence of real progress in the marketing environment is likely to reinforce support for more direct interventions, including government regulations to enforce reductions in unhealthy food marketing to youth.”

Research conducted late last year by Children Now came to the same conclusions, claiming that 68.5% of all advertising to children from companies involved in the CBBB initiative is in the “lowest category” of nutritional quality.

In the UK earlier this months, the Government placed a ban on the placement of foods, alcohol and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar on television programmes.
Restrictions are targeted at food and drink products rated as high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS), according to the Nutrient Profiling scheme developed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Healthier food or drink products which are below FSA thresholds may be advertised without scheduling restrictions, giving an incentive to manufacturers to reformulate existing products to be healthier, or to develop new products which are low in fat, salt and/or sugar.

However, like the US, the regulation does not apply to non-broadcast advertising to children, meaning that product placement in movies is still possible.

New research from the Hood Center for Children and Families at Dartmouth Medical School has highlighted the significant potential negative impact that food product placements in the movies could be having on children.

The study, which appears in the journal Pediatrics, shows that most of the “brand placements” for food, beverage, and food retail establishments that are frequently portrayed in movies are for energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods or product lines.

In Australia The Greens Protecting Children from Junk Food Advertising (Broadcasting Amendment) Bill 2008 was voted down in the Senate last year, despite calls from Coalition on Food Advertising to Children (CFAC) for tougher laws surrounding junk food advertising to children, after they released figures suggesting Australian children encounter about 2200 junk food advertisements on television per year.

On the positive however, sixteen major food and beverage manufacturers have now signed up to the Australian Food and Grocery Council’s Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative.  The companies have publicly committed not to advertise to children aged under 12, unless the product promotes healthy dietary choices and a healthy lifestyle consistent with scientific standards.

There is certainly a strong drive in both the US and Australia to follow the UK’s lead with tougher food advertising laws: whether or not this happens may be determined by which side puts more pressure on Government; the junk-food industry, or consumer groups.