Junk Food Brand Drops Advertising to Kids During Lockdown to Avoid Formal Regulatory Investigation
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Kellogg’s has been exposed for irresponsibly advertising its Pringles snack products[i] to families at the start of PE with Joe exercise sessions on YouTube[ii], according to a successfully resolved complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority[iii].
The brand has now dropped all of its advertising from Joe Wicks’ Body Coach YouTube channel (of which Joe has no control over), rather than face a formal regulatory investigation into its online advertising practices.[iv]
Today, both Action on Salt & Sugar, at Queen Mary University of London and Children’s Food Campaign are calling on all food & drink companies to refrain from advertising any food or drink high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) before 9pm across all media platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic. This should be until the government is able to resume its previously planned work to introduce a 9pm TV and online watershed on junk food advertising, as part of current Childhood Obesity Plan measures.
In April, a ‘pre-roll’ ad for Pringles appeared to an unspecified number of the hundreds of thousands of children (and their parents) who tune in to PE with Joe online every weekday, undermining what is meant to be a much-needed health boost during lockdown.[v]
Under current government rules, Kellogg’s (like other food and drink brands) is not allowed to promote its ‘less healthy’ products on children’s TV, or any media channel, with an audience of more than 25% under-16s. However, loopholes for online platforms and social media, as well as for peak-time family TV viewing, mean that junk food brands and digital marketeers can currently find other tactics to lure children in.
This isn’t the first time that Kellogg’s has advertised on websites and YouTube channels predominately viewed by children. The Advertising Standards Authority found similar breaches of its rules by Kellogg’s in late 2018.[vi]
Nor is Kellogg’s the only brand exploiting loopholes via YouTube. Oreos (Cadburys / Mondelez) has also placed pre-roll ads on Joe Wicks’ YouTube channel at a time when children of all ages are eagerly searching through and playing all the content from their favourite celebrities.[vii]
This news comes as ITV prepares to run ‘The Peoples Ad Break’ during this Saturday’s Britain’s Got Talent (23 May), showing user-generated versions of ads promoting Haribo sweets and Walkers crisps[viii]. More families than ever are turning to TV and online entertainment during the recent period of lockdown, when children’s opportunities to run and play are restricted. Britain’s Got Talent has been attracting record numbers of child viewers, yet it is exempt from government rules.
Emerging scientific evidence from this pandemic shows that nutritional deficiencies, obesity and related health conditions could be risk factors for worse outcomes of people hospitalised with COVID-19. There is comprehensive evidence showing the harmful effect of unhealthy food and drink advertising and the government have consulted on plans for a 9pm watershed on unhealthy food and drinks, the outcome of which is yet to be announced.
Barbara Crowther, Children’s Food Campaign spokesperson, said:
“A Pop, Skip and a Jump’ is a misleading and counterproductive message for industry to be pushing. Placing this ad directly before Joe’s hugely popular children’s daily PE class is a total betrayal of his work, and highly insensitive, irresponsible marketing. Children don’t need more salt, more saturated fat, more sugar, more excess calories being pushed to them during a pandemic; or indeed at any time.
“Children are even more of a captive audience during this lockdown, and we are hugely concerned they are still being subjected to unhealthy food advertising like this. The food industry and Government’s focus should be on building up people’s health and resilience; not undermining it.”
“The Advertising Standards Authority also has an important role to play in enforcing the rules, yet they have allowed Kellogg’s, a known repeat offender, to just ‘settle out of court’.”
Katharine Jenner, Campaign Director at Action on Salt and Sugar, Queen Mary University of London adds:
“Last month the UK’s biggest betting and gaming companies showed some degree of moral fibre by agreeing to stop advertising their products on both TV and radio during the lockdown, in a bid to reduce exposure to those at risk of addiction.
“At this time, when health is more important than ever and our health systems and government are under enormous pressure, we are calling for the British food and drink industry to unite in the interests of public health and, through a voluntary ‘moratorium’, remove all forms of unhealthy advertising across all media platforms before 9pm during the current pandemic.
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Notes to editors:
Action on Sugar is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. It is successfully working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high sugar diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar in food and drink products.
Children’s Food Campaign aims to improve children and young people's health by campaigning for policy changes in our schools and communities that promote healthy and sustainable food environments. Children's Food Campaign is supported by over 100 UK-wide and national organisations, including children’s and health charities and professional bodies, trade unions, school food experts and environmental organisations.
[i] Pringles Original calculated to have Nutrient Profile Model score of 11 and thus be classified as HFSS / ‘less healthy’. Nutrition data via https://www.sainsburys.co.uk/gol-ui/product/pringles-original-190g and NPM scorecard https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/216094/dh_123492.pdf
[ii] PE with Joe - on The Body Coach TV Youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLyCLoPd4VxBsXs1WmPcektsQyFbXTf9FO
[iii] Advertising Standards Authority webpage listing informally resolved cases https://www.asa.org.uk/codes-and-rulings/rulings.html#informally-resolved
[iv] Details taken from letter sent from ASA to complainant explaining the informal resolution of complaint, 6 May 2020.
[v] Details taken from complaint sent to ASA by complainant on 10 April 2020.
[vi] Advertising Standards Authority https://www.asa.org.uk/news/banning-ads-for-hfss-food-appearing-in-children-s-online-media.html
[vii] Oreos advert is subject of a separate complaint recently submitted to ASA awaiting verdict.