The CAP commissioned a review of the literature on online food and drink advertising to children from independent research consultancy Family Kids & Youth last year. It found that research has been limited into the effect of online advertising to children, but products considered to be ‘less healthy’ continue to be advertised online, through channels such as social media and apps.
“On the rules and guidance that apply specifically to food and soft drink advertising online, we are confident, based on the evidence and in accordance with our commitment to proportionate regulation, that the rules currently in place are providing the right level of protection,” it said in a response to the review. “But this does not mean that no further action is required.”
In particular, CAP said there was a need to better understand how children understand online advertising and to make sure the ads that children see are easily identifiable as such. It has advised marketers to clearly label online advertising material that could be seen by children.
The review found some studies suggesting that advergames could influence children’s short term food preferences, but it urged caution on these results, saying they were from lab-based experiments rather than real-world situations – and it was impossible to extrapolate the experiment results to obesity risk.
Since 2011, the same restrictions that apply to advertising food and drink to children in other media also apply online, banning ads that directly encourage children to buy a product or encourage pester power, promotional offers and licensed characters targeting younger children.
Among next steps for the committee, it intends to further explore how children understand commercial intent in immersive online advertising – that is, advergames – and will provide guidance for advertisers by Q3 2015.
“Prior to the new guidance being issued, if there is any doubt as to whether an online ad (e.g. an advergame) is recognisable to children as advertising, the marketing nature of the advergame should be made clear, for example, by labelling,” CAP said.
It added that it would provide training for marketers after publication of the new guidance, and would monitor online food and drink advertising to ensure compliance.