EU Pledge vows to keep pace with kids’ food marketing

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Eu pledge Marketing

Arla Foods’ has become the latest food manufacturer to join the EU Pledge - an initiative that promotes responsible food marketing to children that already boasts Nestlé, Unilever, Mondelez, Mars and Coca-Cola among its members. But with the Danish dairy firm joining the ranks, is the voluntary commitment making as much of an impact as it set out to do back in 2007?

And how has the EU Pledge responded to the advent of social media, online game advertising and in particular past criticism by organisations such as consumer rights group BEUC, who have described its developments as “patchy”​ and "too restrictive to effectively protect children from the harmful effects of marketing"​. 

“The pledge is a dynamic commitment,”​ explained Will Gilroy, director of Communications at the World Federation of Advertisers (WFANET).

“While we don’t have the resources to measure the impact of social media and online games, we are able to collect data sets that are able to show what children are exposed to on TV, print and online.  

“You can measure eyeballs on ads, particularly for TV. The average child under the age of 12 today sees 88% fewer ads for products that do not meet the Pledge’s nutrition criteria compared to 2005. TV is still the major medium when it comes to food marketing for kids. For print titles, we’ve seen a near elimination of ads that do not meet our nutrition criteria.”

The rise of social media

Gillroy said that the pace of marketing strategies, coupled with the advent of new communication channels meant keeping up to speed was a constant ongoing challenge, in particular, allocating resources to monitor new emerging forms of media.

“Over time, we’ve need to make sure our commitments cover more types of media. What we have tried to do in the absence of data sets is set up a series of methodologies.

“So for example, various advertising standard agencies in Europe go out and try to identify ads on social media that target children under 12. We’re not at the stage of identifying ads featured in computer games. That’s not to say we won’t go there at some point.

The dynamic form that Gillroy describes refers to the ever-changing marketing landscape that food firms are able to adopt in their product communications.

It’s a far cry from 2007, when the Pledge was in its infancy and media channels were restricted to limited mediums that were arguably easier to monitor both for parents and regulators.

“In the beginning, we started with TV, print, and 3rd​ party internet advertising,” ​explained Gillroy.“Together these three media types represented 70-90% of food marketing for kids depending on the country. In 2011, we included company websites as we agreed that it was a form of marketing communications. We followed this up in 2014 with efforts to cover all media."

No point of sale and packaging monitoring

This commitment is still relevant today, with the scope extended towards radio, cinema, DVD/CD-ROM, direct marketing, product placement, interactive games, apps, mobile and SMS marketing.

Despite this range, Gillroy mentions some forms that will not be covered such as point of sale and packaging.

“Point of sale is very difficult as it’s not under the control of the brand owner necessarily where its product will end up.

“With packaging we feel that the vast majority of purchases are made by parents and not kids. So we question whether it is proportionate to try to regulate packaging."

As the Pledge reaches its 10-year mark, Gillroy believes the intentions of the EU Pledge has had a wider influence on individual member states and their efforts to push through laws governing the marketing of foods to kids.

“In countries such as Slovakia, Portugal and Estonia they’re setting rules that go way above and beyond current statutory regulation.

“Our vision is to try to ensure these rules are codified so that they apply to the whole of industry and that is something that they’ve done.

"They’ve also used the EU Pledge blueprint to codify rules in countries such as Poland, Denmark and The Netherlands to create an even playing field.

“To that extent, I think the EU Pledge has been a good thing as it raises the bar for the whole of the industry. Codification has also led to other companies outside the EU Pledge, in their respective member states, where they have codified their rules, having to raise their game as well.”

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