Freddo celebrates 80th birthday but campaign ignites criticism of self-regulation

Posted by Isobel Drake on 23rd June 2009

The Freddo Frog, one of the most iconic Australian confectionery products, is celebrating its 80th birthday with an online campaign that has ignited the debate over self-regulation of advertising less than a week after a Bill to ban junk food advertising to children was defeated in the Senate.

Cadbury, a signatory to the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative and owner of the Freddo brand since 1965, maintains that the campaign is not targeted at children and is a benchmark for responsible advertising. However, the Coalition on Food Advertising to Children disagrees, arguing that their campaign highlights a flaw in the self-regulatory code.

Last week, it was announced that sixteen major food and beverage manufacturers had 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. And Cadbury insists that the campaign to be run online and during family viewing time on TV (but not during children’s viewing times) does not contradict their commitment to responsible marketing.

“We don’t actively market to children aged 12 and under,” Cadbury’s pre-teens category manager Kate Watson said, according to The Australian. “We’re marketing to parents. Parents are the gatekeepers. Kids can’t go on the website without parents registering the kids.”

Kate Mehta, from the Coalition on Food Advertising to Children, disputed Cadbury’s assessment of the campaign and said there were loopholes in the self-regulatory code.

“If they were serious in their commitment to abide by the spirit of the socially responsible marketing code they’ve signed up to, then you wouldn’t expect to see marketing like this,” Ms Mehta said. “Without a doubt there are loopholes in the code.”

AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell advised that the initiative, which came into effect at the start of the year, is underpinned by a rigorous and transparent compliance program with complaints administered by the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB)*. As a result, Cadbury’s campaign would be looked at to determine if it breached the code.

“It’s hard to suggest this is happening without parents’ consent and suggesting children eat more chocolate,” Ms Carnell told The Australian.

Cadbury, meanwhile, is considering extending the reach of Freddo beyond Australian and New Zealand shores.

* The George Institute for International Health, a research institute focused on chronic disease, assists in arbitrating issues surrounding the compliance of the advertisement with the Company Action Plans put forward by the participating food companies.