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Online Exclusive: Food Marketing News


Proposed Guidelines Target 18-Year-Olds

By Published on .

WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- A consumer group that has frequently criticized food advertising, especially as it pertains to children, today proposed banning commercials for nutritionally poor foods from shows watched by children up to the age of 18.
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The Center for Science in the Public Interest released its food marketing guidelines today and sent letters to TV networks, movie studios and food marketers urging their immediate adoption. The group, which in the past has limited its criticism to ads targeting children 12 and younger, has broadened its age range, and said marketers shouldn't advertise junk foods to youths 18 and under and ads for the products should be barred in any program in which a quarter of viewers are under 18.

Barring ads from adult shows
Advertising and food marketers called the proposals "ridiculous and shocking." One advertising industry executive said shows that many adults watch would be barred from accepting much of the same advertising if 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds were included in the mix.

The CSPI is "infantilizing" consumers, said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers. "They are infantilizing everyone up to the age of 18." He said under the proposed ad restrictions, youths could drive, but couldn't receive advertising messages.

The report comes as the nation is facing what's been called an epidemic of rising childhood obesity rates. Obesity has become a growing health concern as scientists say overweight children at at risk for Type 2 diabetes and can develop heart disease, stroke and other illness by early adulthood.

The Grocery Manufacturers of America in a statement acknowledged the problems of childhood obesity, but said its members are committed to responsible marketing. It also disputed the CSPI's contention that the amount of child-targeted marketing has increased.

An end to Happy Meals?
The proposals, announced at a news conference today in Washington, would affect everything from McDonald's Happy Meals to a Campbell Soup program offering schools items in return for packaging labels.

Among the guidelines:

  • No ads for nutritionally poor food choices on TV shows that have more than a quarter of the audience under age 18;

  • No product or brand placement for such foods in media aimed at children, including movies, TV and Web sites;

  • No toys, points, club memberships or apparel with food or meals emblazoned on them that don't meet certain nutritional standards;

  • No games tied to marketers' Web sites, unless the games were promoting nutritional products;

  • No movie or cartoon characters or celebrities would be licensed to use in ads or on packaging for children's products that don't meet nutritional standards.

    Urging government action
    Michael F. Jacobson, CSPI's executive director, has proposed some of these same restrictions before, urging federal regulators and Congress to act on behalf of children. He said today that one reason CSPI came out with the longer list of guidelines was the belief that congressional and regulatory action is unlikely in the current political climate.

    The group said new marketing limits are necessary because the amount of the advertising that targets children has dramatically increased and that the ad industry's self-regulatory efforts don't go far enough.

    Problem is the product
    "To change the way the sales pitch is couched is irrelevant if the real problem is the product," said Margo Wootan, the group's director of nutrition policy. She also decried marketers' use of comical characters in food ads that could lead children to equate foods with play.

    "It would be much easier if parents didn't have to contend with billions of dollars worth of sophisticated marketing," she said.

    Mr. Jacobson said the group is now targeting older teens because they are in some ways more vulnerable. He said their growing independence means they can make buying decisions before they understand food nutrition.

    A spokeswoman for the Grocery Manufacturers said the group was especially concerned that CSPI has "chosen to define children to age 18. Quite frankly, while we believe that we should have a responsible message to every age, we believe that young adults are quite capable of determining what is advertising."

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