New ad code fails to protect children from unhealthy food marketing

The Obesity Policy Coalition today warned that the advertising industry’s new code is failing to protect kids from unhealthy food marketing after an Oreo cookies ad shown during the Lego Masters finale was found not to target children despite appearing in one of Australia’s most popular general entertainment shows for children.

In May last year, the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) released a new Food and Beverages Code that is aimed to further reduce the opportunity for children to view advertisements promoting unhealthy food and drink products. The new provisions applied from 1 November 2021.

The Ad Standards Community Panel (the Panel) dismissed the Obesity Policy Coalition’s (OPC) complaint that Oreo had breached the new AANA Food and Beverages Code, which states that ads for occasional (unhealthy) food and beverages must not target children under 15 years.

The Panel found the ad did not target children, saying that under 15s made up 17% of the the audience, below the required threshold of 25%.

Obesity Policy Coalition executive manager, Jane Martin, slammed the decision saying: “This is our first test of the new advertising industry rules and shows that they are clearly failing to protect kids from unhealthy food marketing. It begs the question; should the industry be making rules, which allow advertisers to promote unhealthy food in programs that rate highly with kids.

“We all want our kids to enjoy their favourite shows, like Lego Masters, without being bombarded by unhealthy food advertising that influences what they ask for, what they desire and what they eat,” Martin said.

“Processed food companies spend millions to boost their bottom line by advertising these unhealthy foods when they know kids are watching. These companies put their profits over our kids’ health as they seek to build a new, loyal generation of lifelong consumers.

“These processed products are filled with cheap ingredients like sugar, salt, and fat that we know harm our health and that of our kids, putting them at risk later in life of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancers.

“This enticing ad shows a young girl engaging her distracted father by sharing Oreo cookies as they dance together in front of buskers at a station. The ad ends with the tag “stay playful”,
which evokes a childlike appeal and encourages kids to identify with the girl’s perspective.”

Between July 2021 to June 2022, Lego Masters episodes made up 7 out of the top 10 rating general entertainment free-to-air commercial programs for audiences 12 years and under, with
112,275 to 168,000 watching each episode.

Martin added: “If a show like Lego Masters, that is one of the top rating commercial TV entertainment programs watched by children don’t meet the test for targeting children, then the test is flawed.

“This happens when an industry is left to write its own rules and oversee the system’s operation. This demonstrates that the approach isn’t working and it’s time for government to set controls to protect children, similar to other countries such as the UK.

“Our community expects action. We know 7 in 10 Australians want government to step in and protect our children from unhealthy food marketing. These measures should include TV, radio and cinemas free from these unhealthy ads between 6am-9.30pm.”

The AANA Food & Beverages Code provides that advertising of occasional food and beverage products must not target children under 15, with criteria/issues that must be met. This
standard determines whether an advertisement targets children where the expected average audience will be 25% or more children and the program holds significant appeal for them.

OPC argued that the Oreo cookies ad targeted children in three ways: the advertised product, Oreo, significantly appeals to children; the ad is designed in a way that principally appeals to
children; and it was screened during the Lego Masters finale when children would be a significant proportion of the audience, based on the nature of the program and the high number of children watching.

The Panel agreed that Oreo cookies had significant appeal to children, but considered the theme aimed more at adults than children by reminding them to “stay playful”. The Panel considered this messaging, combined with unchildlike visuals and music would be unlikely to be principally appealing to children under 15. It also determined that the advertisement did
not meet the audience threshold of 25% of children aged under 15 years. It determined that the ad did not breach the code and dismissed the complaint.

The OPC is a partnership between Cancer Council Victoria, VicHealth, and the Global Obesity Centre at Deakin University- a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Obesity
Prevention. The OPC advocates for evidence-based policy and regulatory change to address overweight, obesity, and unhealthy diets in Australia, particularly among children.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.