UK Charities Warn Lawmakers of Junk Food Ad Loophole

30 October 2006

LONDON: Two charities active in health and food affairs have warned the UK communications regulator that it has allowed a yawning loophole in its proposals to protect the nation's children from junk food advertising on TV.

The National Heart Forum and Sustain - an alliance promoting better food and farming - have written jointly to members of parliament, alerting them to the fact that Ofcom's proposed restrictions don't cover brand logo advertising where the actual product is not depicted.

This loophole would permit manufacturers of junk food and drink companies to promote their brands both in spot advertisements and programme sponsorship credits.

In example, they point to Cadbury's chocolate-drenched sponsorship of highly-rated daily soap Coronation Street, networked across the UK and popular with kids.

Sustain's Richard Watts, who coordinates that body's Children's Food Campaign, asks rhetorically: "If Cadbury's sponsorship of Coronation Street does not ultimately sell chocolate then what does it do?"

He added: "We now hear that Ofcom will permit entire commercial channels to be sponsored. Sponsorship is like any other bit of marketing - it promotes a product to a target audience.

Watts then passed the baton to National Heart Forum deputy ceo Jane Landon: "Ofcom's draft proposals do not apply to brand advertising. Unless they do, it will leave the door wide open for junk food and drink companies to shift their marketing spend into programme and channel sponsorship."

She offered a potent comparison, drawing a parallel with "the sort of high-impact brand image advertisements we saw on billboards from tobacco companies in the 1990s".

The duo deem it "vital" that when Ofcom makes its final decision, it closes the loophole and that its regulations are clear and unambiguous.

But these claims of a loophole are rejected by the advertising industry. Sue Eustace, director of public affairs at the Advertising Association, the UK umbrella body representing advertisers, agencies and media, said:

"Ofcom's mandate is a way to restrict food advertising not to target brand advertising. I see no reason why brands shouldn't be allowed to advertise, it is not reasonable to argue that this is a loophole."

She also pointed out that advertisers would not be able to unduly exploit TV sponsorship which, even under current regulations, is prevented from containing overt advertising or exhortations to buy.

Nevertheless, health and consumer bodies have expressed concern that Ofcom, created by the Blair administration and now run by a former advisor to the prime minister, is unduly partial to the blandishments of big business and marketers.

Data sourced from BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff