The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said that the commercial, which aired in January during episodes of the Mr Bean cartoon, was in breach of the Advertising Code, which aims to protect children from exposure to junk food marketing.
Under UK guidelines, food makers are not allowed to market foods that are considered high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) during children’s programming. HFSS foods are dentified using nutrient profiling. The rules in the Advertising Codes rely on the Department of Health (DoH) nutrient profiling model, which compares energy, saturated fat, total sugar and sodium against fruit, vegetables and nut content, fibre and protein.
Under this definition, the specific product featured in the ad, Coco Pops Granola, was not an HFSS product.
In its response to the complaint, which was raised with the ASA by campaign group the Obesity Health Alliance, Kellogg stressed the commercial did not contain any reference to the Coco Pops brand in isolation or to any other product in the range.
At the time the ad aired, the Coco Pops line consisted of five varieties: two of which were not HFSS products and two of which were.
The ASA concluded that while the advert did focus on Coco Pops Granola, the Coco Pops branding was nevertheless synonymous with other HFSS items in the range.
“Coco Pops was a well-established brand, and Coco the Monkey, who was used to advertise all the products in the range, was also well-established as an equity brand character. We considered that many adults and children were likely to very strongly associate the Coco Pops brand and Coco the Monkey primarily with Coco Pops original cereal,” the watchdog said in its ruling.
'Disappointed' Kellogg flags reformulation efforts
Responding to the ASA’s findings, a spokesperson for Kellogg said: “We are disappointed with this decision as we ensured throughout the advert that we were only promoting the Coco Pops Granola product, a cereal that can be advertised in children’s airtime.
“It’s particularly surprising when a ruling from the television regulator OFCOM published on Monday confirmed that an advert for the same product was not in breach of the advertising code.”
While at the time the advert aired Coco Pops original cereal was considered a HFSS product, the spokesperson added that reformulation efforts mean that it now meets the “strict nutritional profiling” of food that can be advertised on kids TV. “We have now reduced sugar in Coco Pops Original by 40%, but kept the same great taste.”
‘An important precedent’ for marketing to kids
The Obesity Health Alliance welcomed the decision, which it said sets an “important precedent” for junk food marketing targeting children.
“These adverts are designed specifically to appeal to children with fun cartoon characters and catchy jingles. This ruling recognises that, even though the product shown is classified as ‘healthier’, the advert used all the same features as adverts for original Coco Pops cereal and therefore essentially promoted the ‘less healthy’ product, which is not acceptable,” Caroline Cerny, Obesity Health Alliance lead, told FoodNavigator.
Responding to the findings, the Children’s Food Campaign co-ordinator Barbara Crowther stressed that these complains are “the tip of the iceberg when it comes to non-compliance with the rules”.
Calling for rules on advertising unhealthy products to be tightened up, she continued: “Brands are simply flouting the rules, hoping no-one will bother to complain, and safe in the knowledge there are no meaningful sanctions for non-compliance anyway.
“Children’s exposure to junk food marketing should not be dependent on organisations and members of the public lodging ad-hoc complaints. Clear guidance about what constitutes an HFSS advert and a stronger legislative framework to restrict junk food marketing are needed if we are to adequately protect children from obesity.”