Two years after extending non-broadcast advertising rules to cover websites and social media, the ASA is struggling to get to grips with its new role, and is failing – the document warns.
Launched today, the new report, suggests that food companies continue to exploit loopholes and advertise junk foods to children online, even though stronger broadcasting regulations prevent such advertising on children’s television.
The document accuses the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code as the root of the problem – adding that the Code leads the ASA to accept junk food sites directly appealing to children by showing video adverts that would not be allowed on television, make misleading claims on health and nutrition of their products, and use ‘advergames’ that encourage children to eat junk food.
“The ASA and CAP act like Tweedledum and Tweedledee: ineffective, ridiculous and joined at the hip,” said Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign (CFC). “But this is no laughing matter.”
“Now more than ever, parents could use a strong helping hand in dealing with the online world and protecting their children from commercial interest,” he added.
“The ASA has proved itself unwilling and unable to fulfil this role.”
‘On a different page’
Reacting to the report, the ASA told us that it shares CFC’s ‘reasonable concerns’ about protecting children, noting that it “sits at the heart of our work and the Advertising Codes.”
“But we are on a different page in terms of where we think the line should be drawn,” a statement said. “The advertising food rules surrounding children are deliberately strict, but proportionate and based on the best available evidence.”
The ASA said self-regulation has a 50 year history of responding effectively and adapting to meet new challenges, including online and digital.
“The rules have been tightened in response to evidence, including those for food, and we continue to monitor how they are working so that advertising remains responsible and children continue to be protected,” it said.
However the CFC said that their review exposes major failings in the regulator’s complaints process and in the non-broadcast marketing code.
The campaign report argues that the regulator’s approach is inconsistent, secretive, biased towards companies with the money and time to challenge rulings, and focused on the letter rather than the spirit of the Code.
“In industry after industry … self-regulation has proven to be a failed model. More of the same is not what is needed to protect children’s health or to give parents more help in making healthy choices for their family,” said Clark.
“Those on the ASA Council and CAP Committees have to step up and improve the performance of their organisations,” he said. “They should heed the report’s findings as they conduct their own official two year review of the online remit extension.”