Recently we reported on changes to the BCAP TV ad code which tightened up food ad controls following child obesity concerns. Now it’s the turn of radio ads, but unlike for TV, which rules apply will not be dictated by whether a food is high in fat, salt or sugar. How come? asks Omar Bucchioni.
Who: Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice
When: 17 September 2007
Law stated as at: 28 September 2007
Government and public concern about rising levels of childhood obesity has been considered by another section of the media. This time is the radio industry to be affected by a new set of rules.
Following the recent new rules for food advertising on TV and non-broadcast media such as magazines, paid-for ad space on the internet, newspapers, billboards and cinema, which are aimed to protect children’s health by ensuring advertisements do not encourage poor nutritional habits or unhealthy lifestyles, the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) has introduced new rules for food and drink product advertisements to children on radio.
These rules came into force on 17 September 2007 and, unsurprisingly, they echo, in terms of content, the rules already in place for TV and print publications. However, there is a period of grace, until 16 December 2007 for existing food and drink campaigns and those in advance stage of development to comply with the new rules. The situation will be monitored by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and any complaints about advertisements should be addressed to this authority.
Most of the new radio rules apply to all children, i.e. persons under the age of 16; however, the BCAP has specifically introduced a new set of rules in order to protect what the Government recognises as the most vulnerable age group, primary school and pre-school children.
Quite surprisingly the new rules covering the radio advertising do not follow the model used for TV advertising and do not discriminate between High in Fat, Sugar or Salt (HFSS) foods and non-HFSS foods using the Food Standards Agency’s Nutrient Profiling scheme. The BCAP decided not to use the same model for radio as they allege that they do not have the relevant expertise in nutritional profiling and ultimately they consider the model not to be appropriate for radio.
No further explanation is given and maybe one of the reasons behind this choice is because BCAP does not entirely agree with some of the positions taken by the FSA? A recent article published on CAP website may suggest this as it criticises the nutrient profiling model adopted by the FSA for having serious flaws:
– The Nutrient Profiling model, according to the publication, does not consider factors such as the combination of foods eaten, how often they are eaten and the portion size, which is important in achieving a balanced diet;
– It does not consider the vitamin or mineral content or how many additives a food contains – aspects that may be just as important as the nutritional content;
– It seems to be based on the scientifically invalid assumption that “good” nutrients can balance out “bad” nutrients;
– It classifies many nutritious products commonly eaten by children as “unhealthy”, for example cheese, raisins and breakfast cereals.
However, even though the radio rules do not discriminate between HFSS foods and non-HFSS foods, they similarly state that advertisements that are directly targeted at primary school or pre-school children through their content cannot include any celebrity, or licensed character, popular with children. It should be noted however that this rule does not apply to advertiser-created equity brand characters (such as Frosties’ Tony the Tiger).
The key rules
The following is a non-exhaustive list of some of the key regulations that have been introduced by BCAP:
1. Advertisements likely to be heard by a significant number of children (for the purpose of these Rules, those aged below 16 years, unless otherwise stated) must not include any material which might result in harm to them, whether physically, mentally or morally.
2. Advertisements must neither encourage children to pester nor directly urge children to buy products or to ask adults to buy products for them (such as “Ask Mum” or “Ask Dad”).
3. References to competitions for children are acceptable provided that any skill required is appropriate to the age of likely participants, and the values of the prizes and the chances of winning are not exaggerated.
4. Children must not personally testify about products and services. They may, however, give spontaneous comments on matters in which they would have an obvious natural interest.
5. Licensed characters and celebrities popular with children must be used with a due sense of responsibility. They may not be used in food or soft drink product advertisements targeted directly at pre-school or primary school children; that prohibition does not apply to advertisements for fresh fruit or fresh vegetables. This prohibition does not apply to advertiser-created equity brand either such as puppets, persons or characters.
6. Advertisements must not disparage good dietary practice and must avoid anything likely to encourage poor nutritional habits or an unhealthy lifestyle, especially in children.
7. Advertisements must not encourage or condone excessive consumption of any food.
What could happen next?
A progress report prepared by the Government is expected to be published this autumn on the success and levels of application of the new rules and a full review on the extent of change to the nature and balance of food advertising is due to take place in 2008. As previously mentioned, the BCAP will carry out monitoring projects on its own compliance. It is therefore likely that the debate and the discussion on whether this rules concerning TV, print publications and radio would have help the Government in tackling obesity. This will only be a portion of the wider consideration given by the Government’s project, which touches other aspect of children’s lives, including education, parenting and physical activity.
Why this matters:
Undoubtedly the new rules on radio introduced by BCAP are very similar to those applicable to TV. However, the new set of rules apply to the content of advertisements but do not indicate times of day when junk food campaigns cannot be broadcast, as Ofcom’s equivalent rules for TV do. Each station’s audience research information should be used to determine whether significant numbers of children are listening at any particular time for the purpose of section 2 of the BCAP Radio Advertising Standards Code.
In addition, because of the failure to adopt the Food Standards Agency’s Nutrient Profiling Scheme, it is now possible that different rules for different media will create confusion amongst the public and difficulties amongst the advertisers as they need to be aware of the fact that a campaign may not be used across the different media. Health groups have expressed concerns that manufacturers once again may have less incentive to create and advertise new products or alter existing products outlining their healthy characteristics as this may signify having to prepare different advertising campaigns for different media.