Foodies and regulators agree on new advertising codes

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has released its guidelines around advertising food that might appeal to children in an effort to “provide clear guidance to advertising agencies, marketers and consumers”. And, amazingly, most seem fairly happy with the new, slightly stricter rules.

The key changes in the Children’s Code for Advertising Food are that marketers cannot promote inactive or unhealthy lifestyles,  undermine the importance of consuming a variety of foods or mislead about the product’s sugar, salt and fat content. And the changes come from a review of the three-year old codes, which were conducted by a panel of public, food industry and government representatives and initiated last year by the ASA.

A 12 month review process considered 46 submissions from a broad range of stakeholders including Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation, the Cancer Society, the Ministry of Health, the Green Party, McDonald’s Restaurants New Zealand Ltd and the Marketing Department of the University of Otago.

ASA executive director Hilary Souter says the new code reflects a desire for industry, government and NGOs to work collectively in the best interests of children’s health and says there was broad support from submitters for this collaborative approach.

This support certainly wasn’t quite so evident just a few months ago when McDonald’s released its Weight Watchers approved meals to the chagrin of the Fight the Obesity Epidemic group, and it’s certainly a much more positive response than that of the marketing community to the recent Law Commission proposals around marketing alcohol, which were roundly criticised for being too draconian and missing an opportunity to address the country’s drinking problems.

The Association of New Zealand Advertisers (ANZA) believes the new codes succeed in providing clear guidance to advertisers and their ad agencies when preparing campaigns that are deemed to have a high level of social responsibility and Jeremy Irwin, chief executive of ANZA and also chairman of the Food Industry Group (FIG), was impressed with the cooperative way in which the ASA Review Panel worked as a supportive team to develop the codes.

He thinks the food industry has been proactive, responded to concerns and made it clear that members were committed to doing the right thing and says the new code further increases the level of responsibility food manufacturers, marketers, ad agencies and media have accepted in order to help parents in their role of educating children about balanced lifestyles and healthy eating.

“While global and local research shows advertising has around a two percent influence on children’s eating habits, our industry knows we have to help parents, by being vigilant about the messages in advertising. The food industry is doing its part,” he says.

Of course, there are some, like the Green Party’s Sue Kedgeley, who would presumably disagree with that statement (and here are a few other viewpoints on the matter). But Irwin says the new code is the latest of several projects and research proving the positive influence advertising and television can have on addressing the childhood obesity issue. He points to the Eat Wise and Exercise campaign by Foodstuffs, which has used television and other marketing mediums to reach around 75 percent of household shoppers with children.

Recent research has shown that television programming, including shows such as The Biggest Loser, also has a measurable impact on children’s views of eating and being obese, as it makes them aware of the risks of unbalanced lifestyles.

The ASA will be providing information and conducting a ‘how to’ seminar to provide advertisers and agencies with practical advice on how to adhere to the codes, Souter says.

The Code for Advertising of Food and the Code for Advertising to Children have also been updated and the Children’s Code for Advertising Food can be found at www.asa.co.nz .

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