Advertisers Pledge To Push Healthier Foods

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Advertisers representing two thirds of  TV food and beverage ad expenditures targetted to children under 12 have agreed to commit 50% of their media budgets for those ads to spots either for foods that meet government standards for healthy products or that include messages encouraging healthier lifestyles.

They also agreed to limit ads with licensed characters, better label advergaming, and limit marketing in schools, with the Council of Better Business Bureaus promising to monitor compliance.

That was the headline from the announcement Tuesday by the Council and its National Advertising Review Unit of an effort to limit marketing to children in the wake of the growing childhood obesity problem

The effort is in part a reponse to calls for change from the Federal Trade Commission and the Grocery Manufacturers Association. FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras praised the effort. “I am highly encouraged by the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ initiative on children’s food and beverage advertising, " she said, "and I commend the Council for taking these important steps.

"The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Health & Human Services’ workshop and report on food marketing to children challenged the industry to develop creative self-regulatory programs. This new program, in addition to clarifications to the Children’s Advertising Review Unit guidelines, shows real promise, and I hope will encourage more competition in developing and marketing healthier products that are attractive to kids and their parents. The FTC works closely with a number of self-regulatory programs, and will be watching closely to see whether this program results in meaningful improvements in food and beverage advertising to children.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest was quick to criticize the intitiave, pointing out that the companies could still market the same foods so long as they included a message about healthier foods or exercise.

A representative for Kellogg said that, for its part, it will continue to advertise presweetened cereals in a responsible manner. A rep from General Mills echoed that sentiment, adding that he thought most, if not all, of its cereals would qualify as healthy

Lee Peeler, President of the National Advertising Review Council, said that while the effrot may not be everything the center wanted, it was a "major step forward" and a "major recognition of concerns that have been voiced."

To that end, the groups also have revamped the children's ad guidelines for its Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU), which is the self-regulating body for kids advertisers.

Under the new guidelines, CARU will look at advertising that is "unfair" as well as misleading, which will include the blurring of advertising and edit content and the use of advertising in online games.

The National Advertising Review Counsel Board says it will look further into product placement and the marketing of ring tones.

Program will be ready to be administered within 6-9 months, at which time the 10 charter companies will have submitted their pledges. The charter companies are Cadbury Schweppes USA; Campbell Soup;  Coca-Cola Company; General Mills.; Hershey; Kellogg; Kraft; McDonald's; PepsiCo.; and Unilever.

Peeler said the focus is ads primarily directed to kids under 12, not necessarily to advertising that reaches a lot of kids. For example, Coke ads in American Idol would not be affected, he said, even though they might reach millions of kids.Gary Ruskin, executive director of watchdog group, Commercial Alert, didn't see much to applaud in the announcement. “Self-regulation is just another word for letting the fox regulate the chicken coop, which of course leads to dead chickens," said Ruskin in a statement. "Self-regulation has been a key ingredient in the childhood obesity epidemic. It is the problem, not the solution.  The childhood obesity epidemic will continue until Congress passes tough new laws against marketing to children.”

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