Advertisers to be reined in!
ASCI (Advertising Standards Council of India) has now brought in self-regulation guidelines for the advertising of food and beverages which will come into effect from the January 1, 2008. From now on advertisers will have to observe “caution and care while promoting products containing high fat/sugar/salt, directed at children below the age of 13 years.”
There were some guidelines already in existence, guidelines which stipulated that advertisements “should not harm minors, physically, mentally, morally, or exploit their vulnerability.” And the ASCI usually acted promptly on any complaints regarding ads which promoted junk foods and supplements at the expense of healthy foods.
These new guidelines however, are formal, more specific and have been formulated with the express consensus of industry. Multinational companies like HUL, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Cadbury and Nestle and Indian ones such as , Dabur and , members of the ASCI, have agreed to regulate their ads themselves.
Some examples: Companies have agreed not to promote over-consumption of junk foods. For example the thums up ad in which actor Akshay Kumar desires more than one bottle of the drink would now not be acceptable.
Manufacturers have also recognised that certain foods/beverages should not be promoted in schools and other institutions “frequented by children”.
Companies are also likely to add positive messages regarding the benefits of healthy food and exercise as a part of their advertisements. All of this is voluntary.
Well, I do hope Nestle withdraws it’s misleading claim that it’s ‘whole-wheat’ instant noodles are healthy! As the list of ingredients on the noodle package shows, the ‘atta’ noodles contain wheat flour (maida) as well as additives. The so-called veggies are too few to be significant. You can see pictures of the vegetables in these noodles here.
What does the world do?
There are WHO guidelines, what they call their “Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health (DPAS)” which WHO expects governments, private industry and consumer groups to take heed of. These guidelines are basically actions against misleading and harmful marketing communication. After WHO issued these guidelines in 2004, about 10 countries have developed/revised their self-regulatory systems on food marketing. Expectedly, 8 of these are European countries.
Private industry detests regulations
Significantly, these regulations don’t actually disallow or “otherwise restrict the volume of food marketing to children” because private industry has lobbied against it, particularly in Australasia, Europe, and the United States, as well as major Asian and Latin American countries like China and India. Almost all over the world in fact!
Pictorial tobacco warnings to be used in India?
Just last evening there was news that the tobacco industry is lobbying hard to fight against the new packaging rule on tobacco packs which the government wants to introduce. The Union Health Minister, Anbumani Ramadoss has claimed that:
…four Chief Ministers and 150 MPs have so far asked him to tone down his anti-tobacco campaign specifically asking for dropping the Health Ministry’s plan to introduce pictorial warnings on packs of tobacco products.
There is evidence in countries like Canada and Brazil that such warnings deter smokers and a study published in the British Medical journals also confirms such findings. In the UK all cigarette packs will carry the pictorial warnings by the end of 2009. Britain will apparently be the first European country to implement this following in the wake of Canada (the first country to do this!), Australia, Brazil and Thailand. If India can manage to withstand pressure from industry it will be something we can be proud of.
Even granting that consumers are expected to know that cigarette smoking can cause cancer and should be allowed to destroy their health if they choose to, many people who do choose to smoke have little choice as they are addicted. These addictions start during the teenage years when people are at their most vulnerable.
Advertisers reach out to the young more easily
Research does show that a significant proportion of children believe that they will become successful or score better marks by consuming the advertised foods! Advertisers never had it so good. A proliferation of cable and satellite channels and an increase in the number of children’s programmes plus more kiddie couch potatoes than ever! That’s 2007 for you. The opportunities to communicate, entice and sell are limitless. In fact a study (2001) by Consumers International in India shows that almost half of advertising during children’s programming was for food. A look at a children’s programming today will show that this percentage has increased.
Kids often overrule the parents
Take a peek into the house next door…and you’ll realise that there is something called ‘pester power’ which is wielded by kids…power to which the parents bow down. Research in Mumbai (carried out on 1000 children in the 5-15 age group along with 300 parents) says:
- 70.7 per cent of the parents submitted to the demands of their children.
- 74.9 per cent of parents felt that TV ads created ‘unnecessary desires’ for the advertised products in the minds of children.
- 60.8 per cent of them cribbed about the fact that their monthly expenditure rose because of children’s demands.
- 72.2 per cent wanted a ban on all ads during children’s programmes.
This research isn’t new but overally there has been very little research on this subject in India..but plenty in developed countries. That is why in some Scandinavian countries, no ads are allowed at all during children’s programmes, or even five minutes before or after the programmes.
A need for statutory regulation?
In India the law does not allow tobacco and alcohol advertising but companies are getting away with surrogate advertising. I guess even with advertising of junk foods the manufacturers would find ways to get round any statutory regulations. Self-regulation will work better in India, with the industry itself keeping a watch on it’s errant members, because if regulations are made, they need to be implemented properly.
In India any statutory regulation would fall under the purview of the I&B (Information & Broadcasting) Ministry. It’s not as if the ministry is not doing anything. They take complaints made to the ministry on advertisements very seriously and issue notices to television channels if they find ads particularly misleading or offensive. And ofcourse they conduct meetings! Plans are afoot to develop regulations based on UK’s Ofcom codes, “with specific sub-sections on children and food advertising…”
Well, as long as codes are implemented properly! And maybe some sort of a code would do good. It would at least prevent some babu sitting in the I&B ministry taking an uninformed and subjective decision regarding what ad to allow and perhaps pocketing a bribe in the bargain!
Update, 10th Nov 07: The latest news is (sadly) is that the pictorial warnings on tobacco packs will not happen as scheduled on december 1. The lobbying by tobacco firms has worked.
(First photograph is by me while the second one has been linked to it’s original on bbc)
Related Reading: Vegetable and Dal Noodles are not as healthy as the ads claim
Surrogate advertising in India
Do we really need all those consumer durables?
Is the Beauty Care Industry a fraud?
Aggressive advertising by supermarkets