“Adolescent Creep” is Edging too Far

August 24, 2017

In our last blog post, we discussed an overly restrictive proposal in Canada that is aimed at severely curtailing advertising of certain types of food and beverages to children. While the problems with this proposal range from the definition of “unhealthy” to the vast amount of media for which advertising would be banned, the most worrisome to the ad community is that the age limit for “children” would be raised from 13 to 17 years of age.

The Canadian government justifies this change on the basis that individuals under 17 are not only exposed to traditional types of television and digital marketing, but they are also exposed to advergames, social media, and viral marketing, which may be targeted to teens rather than younger children. Proponents also cite the fact that many teens are beginning to generate their own spending money and are thus not as influenced by their parents in their purchasing behavior.

This is a drastic expansion of the category of “children” and is a serious departure from the typical definition around the globe, including here in the United States. Children above 13 and under 17 in Canada thus would be treated as being unable to handle the claimed power of advertising content. It ignores the self-regulatory pledges of numerous multinational food companies to shift the mix of foods advertised to children to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles. It also ignores the fact that Canadians under the age of 17 can fly a plane solo, drive a car, get married, hunt with firearms, and get tattoos. Does the Canadian government really believe that exposure to an advertisement for a juice drink is as dangerous as driving a car?

The extension of the cutoff age to 17 would likely result in wholesale restrictions to broader audiences, including adults. Why? Because the proposal would also be expansive enough to cover all digital advertising for these products on sites like Google and YouTube and on virtually every social media platform due to their popularity with the targeted age group. The proposal ignores the fact that millions of adults – who can unquestionably receive all of these advertisements in Canada – watch television, visit those websites, and use social media as well. Additionally, the plan would affect in-store materials like packaging and labelling, which are typically characterized as adult-directed.

This expansion to the adult marketing segment is a blatant overstep. The proposed regulation would ban all “unhealthy” food advertisements on all television stations from 6am-9pm on Saturday and Sunday and at certain times on weekdays. The simple fact is that obesity data do not support these regulations and Canada’s broad adoption of the currently localized Quebec law will not reduce obesity rates for the country.

ANA is working with our Canadian counterparts to monitor the movement of this proposal. If restrictive marketing laws gain traction in our neighboring countries, it is more likely for them to be favorably received by legislators and regulators here in the U.S. Hampering one segment of the advertising industry will create ripple effects for others, and we will continue fighting to protect our members’ constitutional protections for free speech.


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