Public health groups call for tougher penalties to protect children from unhealthy food marketing

11 Dec 2019

Industry’s self-regulated codes continue to let companies off the hook

The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) is urging the Commonwealth Government to introduce higher standards to protect children after Kellogg’s exploited a loophole in the food industry’s flimsy marketing codes to lure kids into consuming products packed with sugar.

Kellogg’s also featured prominently in several Shame categories of this year’s 15th annual Parents’ Voice Fame and Shame awards, highlighting the best and worst of food marketing targeting Australian kids. The OPC’s Executive Manager Jane Martin said the Government needs to step in and stop allowing the food industry to set their own rules through self-regulated codes.

“For too long we have left it up to junk food companies to police themselves. We’ve seen no reduction in unhealthy marketing to children since these sham rules were introduced."

This comes after a complaint made by the OPC to the food industry’s Advertising Standards Community Panel (The Panel) about Kellogg’s marketing its ‘Colour & Win’ promotion directly to kids was dismissed in September this year.

Under the industry-designed Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (RCMI) code, product packaging is not included. Because of this, the website was the only element of the ‘Colour & Win’ promotion the Ad Standards panel would assess.

The Kellogg’s promotion encouraged children to colour in special black and white packs of Kellogg’s cereals, including Rice Bubbles and Coco Pops, and LCMs and go onto a website to enter a competition to win Crayola products, and to bring their picture to life with augmented reality.

 Ms Martin said the decision demonstrates how easy it is for food companies to get away with marketing their unhealthy products to children.  

“Kellogg’s claimed its promotion wasn’t directed primarily to children. But tell me, what fully grown adult gets excited about winning crayons through colouring-in activities on cereal and lunch box snack products? Kellogg’s is clearly exploiting the appeal this sort of activity has for young children.”

Details of the complaint and decision

The advertisement consisted of a Kellogg’s ‘Colour & Win’ website, together with special packs of Kellogg’s cereals and snack bars, a promotion in conjunction with Crayola.

Kellogg’s designed special black and white packs of popular products, including Coco Pops and LCM Split Stix, encouraging people to colour in the characters on the front and back of the pack. Customers were then invited to visit the Kellogg’s website to enter a competition to win Crayola products. The website also had an augmented reality function, allowing users to bring their coloured image to life.

The complaint was dismissed, despite the Panel acknowledging that the overall theme, being a colouring in competition that features images that can be brought to life using an app, was appealing to children under 12.

Ms Martin said this case exposes just how narrow the interpretation of ‘directed primarily to children’ is and on a larger scale, how these self-regulatory codes fail to protect children from exposure to junk food marketing.

“These flawed codes are ineffective when it comes to shielding children from this type of packaging and promotion, and the food industry knows it. Companies continue to exploit this loophole by plastering their packaging with promotions that they know will appeal to children.”

“It’s naïve to entrust our children’s health to the same companies that are actively encouraging them to consume unhealthy foods. The end goal of the food industry will always be to make more profit.”

“We’ve had these self-regulated codes long enough to know they are not working. It’s time for government to take control and support parents to raise healthy children, free from manipulative junk food marketing,” Ms Martin said.