Unilever Paddle Pop ad found in breach of responsible marketing to kids code

7 Dec 2016

Australia’s independent advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) has found Unilever in breach of the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (RCMI) after a complaint by the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) was upheld. 

Unilever was found to have directly marketed an unhealthy product, Street’s Paddle Pop Twirly Pop, to children online via YouTube, which is a direct contravention of the code to which the company is a signatory. 

Executive Manager of the OPC, Jane Martin, was pleased with the determination and Unilever’s decision to stop broadcasting the ad, but said the case highlighted how easy it was for advertisers to influence children online. 

“Unfortunately, junk food and confectionery companies are certainly getting more sophisticated in the way they target children. They’re moving into digital spaces such as online advertising and apps to build more direct relationships with children.”

“We’re pleased to see the ASB stepping up to protect children from junk food marketing. We know that marketing directly impacts what children eat and what they pester their parents for. When one in four children are overweight or obese, we need to encourage companies to start making decisions based on ethics and not just profits,” Ms Martin said.   

Details of the complaint and decision: 

The RCMI states that companies may not advertise unhealthy food to children under 12 years. 

The ASB found that the YouTube ad was primarily directed to children and that the product was not a healthier dietary choice. 

The OPC argued the ad was clearly directed primarily to children based on its themes and visuals, and that the product is not a healthier choice as it is categorised as a red food under the NSW Healthy School Canteen Strategy, one of the two documents Unilever refers to in its RCMI Company Action Plan.

The ASB found that the themes, visuals and language of the ad would appeal to children. It said the theme of discovering treasure on a beach and an animated battle between good and evil characters would appeal to younger children and that the overall theme of consumption of an icy pole would appeal to children. It said the written language of ‘true heroes’, the exciting and simple sound track and effects as well as the ad’s visuals would be attractive to children. Overall, the ASB found that the ad was primarily directed to children.

The Independent Arbiter found that the product is a red food under the NSW Healthy School Canteen Strategy. The Arbiter referred to the National Healthy School Canteen Guidelines, which inform the NSW Strategies used by Unilever, and noted those guidelines require milk-based ice confections to list milk as the first ingredient. The Arbiter said that as milk is not the product’s first ingredient, it cannot be defined as a milk-based iced confection. Based on the information provided by the Arbiter, the ASB found that the product is not a healthier dietary choice and is not permitted to be advertised to children under 12.

About the Obesity Policy Coalition

The Obesity Policy Coalition is a group of leading public health agencies who are concerned about the high levels of overweight and obesity, particularly in children.

The Obesity Policy Coalition is a partnership between Diabetes Victoria, Cancer Council Victoria and the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University, with funding from VicHealth.