Promoting A Healthy Lifestyle Is Not Only Up To Advertisers, But The Government And Parents Too-MediaPost Publications

New Kids' Beverages Marketing Guidelines Generate Debate

Dan Jaffe, EVP for the Washington, D.C., office of the Association of National Advertisers, calls the ICBA and CFBAI initiatives "the most extensive self-regulatory steps ever taken within the food and beverage industry," and perhaps in any category.

He also stresses that these are part of "much broader" industry efforts to address the challenge of childhood obesity, including greatly expanding the range of healthier products offered. For example, he points to a Grocery Manufacturers Association member survey that found that marketers had added over 10,000 new and reformulated products in recent years to address nutrition and calories issues, and to the Ad Council's extensive public service advertising to promote education about nutrition.

by Karlene Lukovitz, Thursday, May 22, 2008 5:00 AM ET

The International Council of Beverages Associations' (ICBA) announcement of new guidelines on marketing beverages to children is another significant step forward for the industry on the issue of childhood obesity--or not, depending on who is being asked.

The guidelines essentially extend self-regulatory guidelines that are already in place in the U.S. through the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) to the international arena, and also extend the scope of the self-regulation. 


Companies also agreed to incorporate healthier choices within their product lines; not engage in food/beverage product placement in editorial and entertainment content geared to children; reduce the use of third party-licensed characters in advertising that does not meet the Initiative's product or messaging criteria; limit products shown in interactive games to healthy dietary choices or incorporate healthy lifestyle messages in the games; and not advertise food/beverages in elementary schools.

Under the ICBA guidelines, member beverage companies voluntarily agree not to place any marketing communication/advertising for a wide range of beverages--including carbonated soft drinks--in any paid, third-party media whose audience consists of 50% or more children under the age of 12. The policy includes paid media outlets such as TV, radio, print, Internet, phone messaging and cinema, including product placements. Waters, juices and dairy-based beverages are not included, because not all ICBA members market these.


Indeed, the FTC is currently conducting a study on all methods of marketing foods and beverages to children and adolescents, expected to be released by summer or early fall. The study is delving into types of food marketed; the types and nature of marketing techniques used; marketing expenditures; and any marketing policies, initiatives, or research in effect or undertaken by food and beverage companies.


Children's activist groups like the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood maintain that the increasing pressures from the government and the public, and the threat of lawsuits, are the main motivators behind industry guidelines.

These groups also express the same basic criticisms about the ICBA guidelines that they did about the CFBAI guidelines. Namely, that self-regulation isn't working and that formal, regulatory oversight is needed, because marketers simply find ways outside of the guidelines to reach children. For example, marketers' own Web sites do not fall under the guidelines-and of course, large numbers of children watch many shows that also do not fall under the guidelines.

"Companies get into trouble areas when they start marketing products in schools, and as a parent and branding professional, I have to wonder what Coke is thinking when they do commercials showing families passing around big-liter bottles of Coke at dinnertime. But I can't see how you can argue against being able to market on something like 'American Idol.'

"It's complex," Ries continues. "For instance, who decides what's healthy? Can an occasional piece of cake be part of a healthy lifestyle? Of course. Do we really want to try to tell high school kids that they can't choose to have an occasional can of soda? Who makes these decisions? The reality is that we are all constantly exposed to temptations that aren't necessarily the healthiest, and not only through advertising. There's a big element of parental control and educating your kids about healthy lifestyles and advertising influences."

In response to questions about the 50% under-12 audience demographic threshold and other limitations of self-regulatory guidelines, major beverage marketers have made similar points.

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