Ad, food groups indignant

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Advertising and food-marketer groups are reacting with ire and disdain to plans by consumer groups to file a $2 billion suit against Kellogg Co. and Viacom's Nickelodeon for marketing poor food choices to kids.

"This action is breathtaking in its willful disregard for the First Amendment protections that are guaranteed to us all," said Dick O'Brien, exec VP of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. "It looks to be a cynical hijacking of the legal system to advance a social agenda."

Dan Jaffe, exec VP of the Association of National Advertisers, called the suit "an extraordinarily radical misconstruction of the First Amendment," noting, "These are not age-limited products. They can be sold in a store to any age group. What you are saying is `It is fine to sell it to people, even those under 8, but you can't talk to them.' That theory has been knocked down in tobacco and alcohol cases. It's a threat of censorship in the food area."

Clark Rector, senior VP of the American Advertising Federation, said he has "a hard time" believing such a suit could succeed in court. "It is absurd to sue advertisers for truthfully advertising legal product," he said, adding that industry studies show the number of food ads kids see are decreasing even as childhood obesity is increasing.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association issued a statement calling lawsuits like this "a gratuitous distraction from the industry's collective focus on comprehensive solutions to reduce childhood obesity. We remain focused on providing a wide range of healthy products and helping parents make smart choices about diet and exercise."

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