ASA criticised over online junk food adverts

29 April 2013

Posted by Satvir Bhullar

Sustain has criticised the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) over online adverts for unhealthy food.

The organization's Children's Food Campaign has published its 'Through the Looking Glass' report, which examined the "topsy turvy" regulations that are in place to protect children from online marketing of junk food.

It said that two years on from the ASA extending its non-broadcast advertising rules to cover websites and social media, the regulator is struggling to get to grips with its new role and is failing.

This is leading to food companies continuing to exploit loopholes and promote junk foods to children online.

The report describes the ASA’s "frustrating and time-consuming" complaints process and claimed the regulator’s approach to be inconsistent, secretive, biased towards companies with the money and time to challenge rulings and focused on the letter rather than the spirit of the legislation.

It also suggested that the organization does not properly understand the digital world.

The investigation found that the weakness of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) code is one of the main causes of the problem.

This has lead to the ASA allowing food companies to host adverts that would not be allowed on television, use child-friendly brand characters, create 'advergames' that encourage the consumption of unhealthy food and make misleading nutrition claims on sugary products.

"The ASA and CAP act like Tweedledum and Tweedledee - ineffective, ridiculous and joined at the hip. But this is no laughing matter," stated Malcolm Clark, Co-Ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign.

"Now more than ever, parents could use a strong helping hand in dealing with the online world and protecting their children from commercial interests. The ASA has proved itself unwilling and unable to fulfil this role."

He said that in a wide range of industries - from MPs’ expenses, to phone hacking and banks - self regulation has proved to be a failed model.

Mr Clark added: "Those on the ASA council and CAP committees have to step up and improve the performance of their organizations.

"They should heed the report’s findings as they conduct their own official two year review of the online remit extension."

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