CARU, 10 food companies announce huge changes in marketing to children

In what is being called the biggest revision of children's advertising guidelines in 32 years, the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) and the National Advertising Review Council (NARC) last month announced two developments regarding advertising to children: a voluntary self-regulation program led by 10 of the largest food and beverage companies, and “significant” revisions to and a strengthening of the guidelines of their joint Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU).

The first, the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, is a voluntary self-regulation program designed to shift the mix of advertising messaging to children under 12 to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles. Charter participants are Cadbury Schweppes USA, Campbell Soup Co., Coca-Cola Co., General Mills Inc., Hershey Co., Kellogg Co., Kraft Foods Inc., McDonald's Corp., PepsiCo Inc. and Unilever. It is estimated that these companies account for more than two-thirds of children's food and beverage television advertising expenditures.

Second is the approval of significant revisions to CARU’s Self-Regulatory Guidelines for Children's Advertising. The revised guidelines strengthen the ability of CARU, which monitors all advertising directed to children under 12, to provide guidance and oversight to all industry sectors.

"These are important developments. The initiative represents an innovative effort to promote healthier dietary choices and lifestyles to children,” said Joan Z. (Jodie) Bernstein, a former director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection and a key architect of the plan. “I commend these 10 companies for coming together in a meaningful new program that will have strong oversight. In addition, the revised guidelines will assist CARU to continue to hold all advertising to children under 12 to high standards. Together, these efforts are a great step forward."

Under the terms of the initiative, participating companies commit to:

  • Devote at least half their advertising directed to children on television, radio, print and Internet to promote healthier dietary choices and/or to messages that encourage good nutrition or healthy lifestyles.
  • Limit products shown in interactive games to healthier dietary choices, or incorporate healthy lifestyle messages into the games.
  • Not advertise food or beverage products in elementary schools.
  • Not engage in food and beverage product placement in editorial and entertainment content.
  • Reduce the use of third-party licensed characters in advertising that does not meet the initiative's product or messaging criteria.
  • Each participating company will submit to the CBBB a commitment, tailored to the company's product portfolio, that complies with the principles of the initiative. Company commitments that identify better-for-you dietary choices must be consistent with established scientific and/or government standards. The CBBB expects the program to be up and running within the next six to nine months.

"Self-regulation works best when backed by strong and effective accountability," said Steven J. Cole, CBBB president/CEO. "We will closely monitor adherence to the participant commitments. This program is an excellent example of how voluntary self-regulation and the BBB advance marketplace trust."

Consumer groups, however, expressed skepticism over the voluntary and self-regulating nature of the plans and said there remains a need for legislative or regulatory action.

C. Lee Peeler, executive vice president of advertising self-regulation at CBBB and president/CEO of NARC, will lead the initiative, which will be supported by experts in nutrition and media research. Program staff will monitor companies' compliance with their commitments and will maintain a publicly accessible web site that details their findings.

"We hope the experience we gain implementing the initiative will provide a basis for enhancing the program and expanding it to other companies across the food and beverage industry," said NARC Board Chairman Nancy Wiese.

The guidelines review process brought together more than 40 leading children's advertisers across industry sectors.

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