BRUSSELS: Some of the world's biggest food and beverage companies have substantially reduced the amount they advertise products like snack foods in media mainly consumed by children in the European Union, a new study has found.

The World Federation of Advertisers, the trade industry body, commissioned an assessment of the marketing practices of the manufacturers which have signed up to the EU Pledge.

Burger King, Coca-Cola, Kraft, Mars, PepsiCo, Nestlé and Unilever were among the 11 firms that committed not to advertise products to children under 12 years of age, except where they "fulfil specific nutrition criteria."

According to the WFA's estimates, this group is responsible for almost two-thirds of spending in the food advertising market in the EU.

Data was collected by Accenture Media Services in France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Spain, and measured against totals recorded in 2005.

It found there had been a 93% decline in the number of ads for such products in TV shows where children contributed the majority of the audience, and a drop of 56% across all programmes in this period.

With regard to the activity of these marketers across their entire portfolios, Accenture reported a fall of 61% in ads shown in programmes mainly watched by under-12s, and a 30% decline overall.

Just 480 TV spots out of 414,553 analysed contravened the voluntary regulations, as was the case for just two print ads in a sample of children's titles, both in Spain.

Having monitored a range of websites based in EU countries that are popular with this age group, only one erroneous execution appeared, and this was later identified as having originated from the US.

The WFA warned, however, that the number of portals from outside the Union which are popular with children in the region means it is "clearly difficult for global advertisers to control advertising of this nature on the internet."

It therefore recommended that marketers participating in the Pledge buy ads directly from site owners rather than ad networks, and ensure an age-appropriate filter is in place for ads on social networks.

Stephan Loerke, managing director of the WFA, said "these independent data show how self-regulation can help deliver on public policy objectives and why it cannot be discounted from the policy mix".

Data sourced from World Federation of Advertisers; additional content by WARC staff