Reducing "Unhealthy" Advertising Works

September 29, 2009

The EU food industry has significantly reduced advertising to children over the last two years, says a report from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA).

The EU food industry has significantly reduced advertising to children over the last two years, says a report from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA). The recent report is the first to monitor the results of a 2007 pledge taken by 11 food manufacturers in Europe outlining their plan to change the products they advertise to children under the age of 12.

Results of the study, conducted independently by Accenture Marketing Sciences, show a 93% decline in television advertising for products that do not meet nutritional criteria and that air during shows for children. Additionally, there was a 56% decline in advertising for these products across all programs on all channels at all times. Out of the 414,553 spots that aired during the studied period, only 480 were found to be non-compliant. Compliance was almost 100% for print and online media. 

When nutrition was taken out of the equation, results were still encouraging. For shows with an audience composed mostly of children, there was a 61% decline in advertising across all products. For all shows, there was a 30% overall decline in advertising. 

The EU Pledge is a commitment to reduce food and beverage advertising on TV, print and Internet to children under the age of 12 in the European Union. Participants in the pledge include Burger King Europe, Ferrerro, Danone, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, Kraft Foods, General Mills, Mars Europe, Nestlé, PepsiCo International and Unilever. Together, these companies represent approximately two thirds of the food and beverage advertising budget in the EU.

A group of U.S. companies, including Campbell Soup Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Kraft Foods Global and Unilever, along with the Better Business Bureau, formed a similar initiative (the first of its kind and the model for the EU Pledge) in 2006. Their goal has been to shift child-directed advertising emphasis to better-for-you foods and beverages, creating more balance in the types of food and beverage products advertised to children under 12.

“Advertisers want to do the right thing and be a part of the solution in helping the gatekeepers – school, parents, etc. – improve child nutrition. There is also huge consumer demand for better-for-you products. The participating advertisers in our program believe that they are supporting the efforts of families to eat more healthfully,” says Elaine D. Kolish, Vice President and Director, Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative at the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

BBB’s 2008 review of the U.S. initiative during 2007 found that compliance was high overall, and that companies were making good progress in implementing their commitments under the schedules BBB had approved. 

Both the EU and U.S. programs show that self-regulatory measures can play an important role in addressing public needs effectively. Kolish also points out that these types of initiatives can sometimes be more effective than government regulations. Stephan Loerke, WFA Managing Director, agrees.

“Industry has long held that voluntary action can be more effective in a shorter timeframe than government regulation. These independent data show how self-regulation can help deliver on public policy objectives and why it cannot be discounted from the policy mix,” says Loerke.

In view of the significant number of food and beverage companies participating and their willingness to commit to change, the results of these reports should be of great interest to all those involved in consumer and health protection, and the retail industry. 

“Some stores have already put programs in place with candy-free aisles for check out, displays about USDA’s Food Pyramid and labeling programs,” says Kolish. “But we would love to eventually do a program at the Better Business Bureau for retailers to help them show their commitment to the promotion of better-for-you products.” 

The BBB’s 2008 compliance report is expected to be released in late October 2009. View the 2007 report here:

View the WFA’s 2009 monitoring report here: