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Besieged industry tightens rules

 

Julian Lee

Sydney Morning Herald
April 17, 2008

 

CHANGES to the way companies can market to children - including a ban on the sexualisation of children in ads - were unveiled yesterday as the marketing industry faces a battle to preserve its system of self-regulation.

Pester power, the placement of ads in media deemed unsuitable for children, and ads for such products as alcoholic lipsticks, were also included in the changes to the Australian Association of National Advertisers' code regulating advertising to children.

For the first time, advertising has been expanded to include all marketing communications, including samples given away at events and websites owned by companies and used as marketing vehicles for their products. These do not fit into the narrow definition of ads because no money has changed hands.

The association's chairman, Ian Alwill, hailed the changes as demonstrating the $35 billion industry's "responsible approach to marketing".

Mr Alwill, the most senior marketer at Nestle, said there were a "lot of floating issues around" and that the industry needed to make some changes to keep in step with changing community and Government attitudes.

But he acknowledged the changes were unlikely to silence critics of the advertising industry's self-regulatory approach. Complaints would continue to be assessed by the board of the Advertising Standards Bureau.

"We will always have critics they are good to have, to prick your conscience," he said. "We are never going to keep everybody happy; that's almost impossible. We have done as much as we can do to regulate our own behaviour. Some will say not enough others will say it is too much."

The industry is defending its position in a Senate investigation into alcohol marketing, and the issue of junk food marketing to children and its alleged links to childhood obesity would "still hang around until people are happy", he said.

He said claims made around a company's response to climate change and sustainability would also be important.

"There are more issues on the table than there have been for a while and we will deal with them as they come along. And in 10 years' time I dare say there will be some we won't have thought about."

But critics said the revised code did little to address areas such as the use of premiums - giveaway toys such as those in McDonald's Happy Meals.

They also pointed out that there was a clause prohibiting pester power in the previous code.

"This really changes absolutely nothing," Elizabeth Handsley, of Young Media Australia, said. "We are struggling to find an ad that would be affected by their clause on the sexualisation of children."

Clare Hughes, the food policy officer at Choice, said the new code did little to blunt the effect of toys given away as a part of meal deals. While it might restrict companies from putting a time limit on the promotion, which encouraged rapid repeat purchases, they were still able to market the toys that come with meal deals as collectable series.

As for pester power, she said: "The very nature of advertising is to stimulate demand."

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