Many studies have proven the influential effects of advertising on children and adolescents, with their increasing access and exposure to the television, internet and other communication media. Young people are said to view more than 40 000 advertisements per year on television only. Considering that many of them, especially those younger than 8 years, are practically unable to recognize the intent to sell, they are highly likely to immediately accept advertising claims (American Academy of Pediatrics 2006).
Another report gives an estimate of how much food marketers spend on child-directed marketing, amounting to roughly $870 million. $1 billion is allocated for adolescents, while $300 million cover both groups. Moreover, $474 million is used for promoting carbonated beverages among adolescents. Many companies have also deviated from the traditional ways of advertising and have employed the use of packaging, “advergames” and the Internet (Federal Trade Commission 2008).
One example of this is the way characters from Superman Returns and Pirates of the Caribbean have appeared in limited edition snacks. They have been displayed even in product packaging, television and the Internet. Video games, free downloads and “Webisodes” are now also utilized for advertising purposes (Federal Trade Commission 2008). Furthermore, new techniques including tie-ins between movies, fast food restaurants, television shows and toys have been developed. Endorsements too are masked in kids’ clubs, and nearly 20% of fast food restaurants now also include a toy reward in their ads for certain meals (American Academy of Pediatrics 2006).
A consequence of these enhanced methods of advertising unhealthy lifestyle is the growing number of cases of childhood and adolescent obesity, cigarette and alcohol use. Hawkes’ (2005) recent study presents evidence proving that advertising does influence the youth’s food choices and dietary habits. And this evident relationship has called the attention of government and non-government entities. In some countries, actions have been made to reduce the adverse effects of food marketing. One solution proposed is “self-regulation”.
Self-regulation involves a certain sense of responsibility taken up by food marketers. It aims to guarantee consumers that their communication strategies will not be misleading, or offensive. One benefit this can offer for advertisers is that it promotes trust among their consumers as well as the government. Thus both parties’ interests are protected.
However, Hawkes continues to show the scope and limitations of this method. The development of a code for marketers to develop will be able to monitor its strategies, but it will not be able to change the nature of food promotion. It will also not necessarily bring about a minimization of obesity or poor nutrition in children.
Self-regulatory techniques will be limited to effectively prohibiting misleading and exploitative advertisement, without actually making a difference in its effectiveness, since these techniques do not include “control of the quantity, location, or emotional power of such promotions.” Thus for effectiveness, self-regulation will necessitate rules that actually impose restrictions. And this is exactly what the United Kingdom is doing.
UK has termed obesity as an epidemic, leading to the implementation of more than just self-regulatory techniques, but definite and comprehensive regulations. July 1, 2007 marked an important date as a mandatory regulation for nutrition and health claims came into execution. The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (2002) enumerates these actions that broadcasters must do. They are to consult the Food Standards Agency’s Guidance to Compliance with Regulation (EC) 1924/2006 on Nutrition and Health Claims on Foods. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is an independent organization that aims to address the growing consumer concerns about food safety, hygiene, standards, as well as diet and nutrition (Food Standards Agency 2005).
Regulation 1924/2006 upholds the following guidelines. Advertisements should avoid presenting unhealthy lifestyles to children and must not directly ask children to buy or ask adults to buy products advertised. For instance, phrases like, “Ask Mummy to buy you” are not tolerable (Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice 2002). They must also not imply that children will be inferior or unwise by not buying these. In addition, use of words “just” or “only” is prohibited when mentioning retail prices of children’s merchandise.
Another feasible solution is the inclusion of media literacy courses in education curricula. This noncontroversial and doable response will teach them to be more critical of what they see or hear from the television, radio, Internet or other communication avenues. This is also promising in the mitigation of negative effects of inappropriate advertising such as obesity, poor nutrition and alcohol or cigarette use.
The speedier and more efficient modes of communication bring with them an increased pressure for responsibility in the part of marketers. As their messages become more accessible to young people, they must make it their duty to convey the right ones. Otherwise, they might find themselves at the mercy of concerned and more aware consumers.
LIST OF REFERENCES
American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Communications (2006) ‘Policy Statement: Children, Adolescents and Advertising’ Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics [online] 118, (6) 2563-2569. Available from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/118/6/2563 [5 May 2009]
Federal Trade Commission (2008) FTC Report Sheds New Light on Food Marketing to Children and Adolescents [online]. Available from http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2008/07/foodmkting.shtm [5 May 2009]
Hawkes, C. (2005) ‘Self-regulation of food advertising: what it can, could and cannot do to discourage unhealthy eating habits among children’ British Nutrition Foundation Nutrition Bulletin [online] 30, 374-382. Available from http://intergroup.epha.org/IMG/pdf/Hawkes_self_regulation_Nutrition_Bulletin.pdf [5 May 2009]
The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (2002) Television Advertising Standards Code [online]. Available from http://www.bestessaytips.com/pdf/Harvard_Guide.pdf [5 May 2009]
Food Standards Agency (2005) The Food Standards Agency [online]. Available from http://www.eatsafe.gov.uk/about_us/ [5 May 2009]