Advertising expert blasts critics of kids’ food marketing regulators

By Laurence Gibbons

- Last updated on GMT

Sustain has criticised the ASA for not doing enough to crack down on irresponsible kids food marketing
Sustain has criticised the ASA for not doing enough to crack down on irresponsible kids food marketing

Related tags Advertising

An advertising expert has attacked campaigners’ efforts to restrict kids’ food and drink marketing without firm evidence as “reckless to the extreme”.

Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, backed by lobbying group Sustain, criticised the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for not targeting enough irresponsible food and drink marketing to kids. His comments followed the ASA’s announcement that it would review the area, especially online marketing.

However, Ian Twinn, director of public affairs for the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), said: “… I find the idea of advocating any kind of restrictive measures based on anything less than hard evidence – and in this case an independent review carried out by highly-respected practitioners and academics – to be reckless to the extreme.

“The year is still young, but already there have been several attacks on the food industry from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) keen to ban food ads, and, it would seem, even the products themselves.

“If we are talking about making changes to businesses that will affect the economy, they need to be behind evidence-based research.”

‘Hard evidence, harsh opinion’

Banning adverts failed to help prevent the damage that lobbyists claimed the adverts had on the population, he added. “But a malady affecting some health NGOs is their conflation of hard evidence with harsh opinion. Clearly, obesity is a complicated socio-economic issue, and advertising is at most a peripheral factor.”

Responding to the marketing review announcement from the ASA and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), Clark, backed by lobbying group Sustain, said: It is progress of sorts that the advertising regulator has finally conceded that they lack the expertise needed to properly judge the impact of online and digital marketing.​ 

“However, we remain unconvinced that yet another literature review will lead to the changes in the CAP Code necessary to better protect children from junk food marketing.”

He criticised regulators for not strengthening the rules, despite Sustain providing evidence of loopholes in the Code, and called a new CAP help note to advertisers “merely a repackaged version of existing guidance”.

‘Problem areas’

“We will continue to highlight examples of problem areas and advertising that breaks the rules, and test out whether – with their stated new push on compliance and being a pro-active regulator – the ASA is at last starting to address our concerns more seriously,”​ he said.

The ASA confirmed that decisions to ban an advert were always based on evidence.

A spokeswoman for the ASA told “As a regulatory body our whole principle is rules are proportionate and evidence-based. We wouldn’t ban an advert without evidence​ [of the damaging effects].

“We try to be as engaged with the industry as possible, we would advocate that people get in touch and we are happy to offer free advice ahead of a campaign.

She said while the ASA was restrictive where appropriate, it was not heavy-handed. “Big brands tend to make a considerable amount of adverts in a year. You have to think about how many they make compared to how many are banned.”

Visit our gallery of banned food and drink ads in the past year for more on ASA rulings​.

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