Recently, a few companies, mainly MNCs, have pledged to responsible advertising to children kids below 12 years of age. These companies include HUL, cola majors Coca Cola and PepsiCo, Nestle, Kellogg, General Mills, Mars International and Cadbury. This might be a significant move considering the brouhaha over comparative advertising involving competing products, wherein a surreptitious manner or even blatant comparison happens in the name of advertising. However, it is not clear now how this pledge will manifest itself in reality as it is still early days.
The pledge mentions that the food and beverage (F&B) products will not be advertised to children below 12 years of age unless it caters to certain dietary guidelines. In reality, one needs to see how this pans out, especially on kids’ channels.
An interesting fact is that while all food majors have taken a formal pledge now, this kind of self regulation is not new. Alan Collaco, Secretary General, ASCI, said, “In January 2007, we had called all members of the F&B industry, who are part of the ASCI, for a workshop, and on the basis of their inputs, the 21 food majors had accepted guidelines for responsible advertising when it came to advertising products for children under the age of 13 years. This came into effect from January 1, 2008. I think this move is just a reiteration of the earlier commitment.”
The health benefit peg
In fact, one would have noticed how F&B advertising in recent times have shifted focus to health benefit. One such example is that of Nestle’s Maggi, which has changed its communication line to ‘Taste bhi, health bhi’, thus dispelling outright any concern one would have of the nutrient value while consuming Maggi. Similarly, many other food majors focus on health benefits, like Kellog’s Cornflakes, which too stresses on the nutrient value of the cornflakes.
According to Rohit Ohri, Managing Partner, JWT Delhi, the agency that handles Pepsi, “I don’t think the pledge will make any difference in the way Pepsi has been advertising in India, because for the last two years we have been following guidelines given to us from our client, adhering to their stand in other countries, which focused on self regulation. It is just that it’s being formalised now, but for us, the code existed even before the pledge and we are sticking to that in our advertising.”
All the food majors who have pledged are MNCs and have taken such a pledge in European countries as well, where the guidelines are more stringent. In fact, the India pledge is part of the European pledge, where the companies stress on being responsible while advertising food and beverages and stop marketing junk food to children below 12 years.
Many companies have existing guidelines on the way products are marketed to children, like in the case of Cadbury, where there is strict code to Ogilvy and the production house that states they can’t involve children less that 8-9 years of age in their advertising and even goes to the extent of checking the featured child’s birth certificate to ensure there is no violation.
It remains to be seen if this move/ pledge will be replicated by indigenous Indian players not only in the F&B category, but in others too, where there have been many errant cases in the past.
Coca Cola, PepsiCo, HUL among companies pledging to change advertising to children