‘WE’LL BE GOOD,’ FMCG MAJORS PROMISE KIDS...

Nine major F&B companies have come together to share a commitment - that of becoming more responsible while advertising to children, starting December 31, 2017

29 Jan, 2018 by admin

Nine major F&B companies have come together to share a commitment - that of becoming more responsible while advertising to children, starting December 31, 2017

 

By SAMARPITA BANERJEE

For years, one topic that has led to numerous debates among advertisers across the globe is, ‘Where should one draw the line while advertising to children?’ Some of the questions that have been brought up time and again are, ‘Is marketing to children harmful?’ and ‘How do you effectively reach out to kids without having any adverse effect?’ - with many suggesting a complete ban on advertising to kids.

Only recently, the Indian government put a ban on the airing of condom ads on television channels till after 10 pm, due to the possible impact on children. In a country where close to 28% of the population comprises children between the ages of 0-14 years, ensuring the restriction of ads promoting products that can become a health hazard is imperative.

Taking into account the adverse impact of advertising on people’s health, the food and beverages (F&B) industry has been an intrinsic part of this debate and has pledged to do its part to address the numerous issues surrounding this conundrum. Nine of the biggest global F&B brands have taken it upon themselves to become more responsible while advertising to children. This forward-looking step may be viewed in the backdrop of the pledge on ‘India Policy on Marketing Communications to Children’ published in 2016 by the Food and Beverage Alliance of India or FBAI (an alliance of brands including Coca-Cola India, Mars, General Mills, Mondelez International, Pepsico, Kellogg’s, Nestle, Ferrero and Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), under the patronage of a global self-regulatory alliance of foods and beverage companies. The brands were given time till December 31, 2017 to make the requisite changes in their products, as well as communication.

As a part of the pledge, the participating companies will now only advertise products that meet common FBAI pledge nutrition criteria, to children under the age of 12 years. They have also unanimously agreed not to engage in food or beverage product marketing communications to children in primary schools.

According to the India Pledge website, the FBAI Working Group which came up with the ‘Nutrient Criteria’, based their approach on the ‘WHO guidelines for the establishment of nutrient profiles, and on the work undertaken by the EU, Singapore, USA Pledge Groups and International Choices Programme. The category-specific threshold values were determined based on current Indian regulations and Indian and Global guidelines for nutrient intake.

THE STIRRINGS OF A GLOBAL MOVEMENT

The India Pledge is the local counterpart of a global commitment started by the International Food & Beverage Alliance (IFBA). Formed in 2008, the alliance brought together some of the world’s leading food and non-alcoholic beverage manufacturers to voluntarily commit to support the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2004 Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. Since then, a lot of local pledges have been initiated across the globe. (The current number stands at 50 countries). Ever since the first pledge was initiated in 2009, it has been consistently updated and made more relevant. The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), a global body that works closely with all the IFBA companies, is giving the pledge a push.

Speaking about the significance of an initiative like this, Will Gilroy, Director of Public Affairs and Communications, WFA says, “The global IFBA commitment has been the basis for a lot of other local pledges, because while it’s important to do it at a global level, it’s also important to bear in mind local media consumption patterns - how people consume media and advertise at a local level. The Indian pledge was launched for the first time in 2010, but that was the old iteration of the IFBA commitment. In 2016, these companies in India agreed to adopt the latest IFBA commitments, to critically develop Common Nutrition Criteria (CNC) which would underpin them, and would involve defining amongst themselves the thresholds for specific categories around what can, versus what cannot be advertised to children.”

Currently, around 50 countries have participated in the pledge. However, what makes the Indian pledge different, Gilroy explains, is that India is one of the first countries to come up with a comprehensive, credible nutrition criteria that is very close to the EU pledge benchmarks.
 

The CNC covers eleven defined categories produced or marketed by India Pledge member companies. No nutrition criteria was developed for certain food categories, such as chocolate, confectionery and soft drinks, as these products will not be advertised by the companies that have signed the pact.
 

BRANDS SPEAK

So what is it that made these nine companies decide to participate in the pledge? According to an HUL spokesperson, the brand believes that food product marketing communications should support the role of parents and other appropriate adult role models by providing guidance on the nutritional profile of products. “Globally, we are the second-largest advertiser in the world. With this scale comes responsibility, and we are fully committed to responsible marketing and advertising. As per our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan launched in 2010, one of the goals is to improve the health and well-being of one billion people by 2020 and we are taking steps to deliver on the same. The India Pledge helps us in this journey. We are committed to help people make choices for a nutritionally-balanced diet.”

A lot of the cola-producing companies have always been on the receiving end, whenever talks of responsible advertising have been initiated. The fact that the current pledge has a few of the biggest cola makers in the world, paints an encouraging picture.
 

For Deepika Warrier, Vice President, Nutrition category, PepsiCo India, the pledge is about understanding that it is vital to communicate responsibly about the brand’s products. “At PepsiCo, we believe that children are a special audience and as part of our ‘Performance with Purpose’ agenda, PepsiCo has remained committed to communicate responsibly to children for many years now. We take particular care that we advertise only those products that meet PepsiCo’s Global Nutrition Criteria for Advertising to Children, under 12 years, and we have been following the same principles in India also.”
 

Salil Murthy, Commercial Director & Head- India Market, General Mills (GM) which has brands like Pillsbury, Betty Crocker and Nature Valley, amongst others in its stable, says that the brand realises the importance of self regulations and maintains strict internal marketing policies to stay relevant and up-to-date on the changes in the overall food ecosystem. “We believe that self-regulatory programs around the world are having a profound impact, ensuring that nutrient-dense foods that are lower in calories, are the focus of food marketed to children. For many years, we have maintained strict internal policies on responsible marketing to children. These policies are regularly communicated to employees and partners who do work on our behalf.”
 

For Mars, which produces some of the world’s most popular chocolates including M&M’S, Snickers and Mars, among other products, the effort at responsible advertising to kids started much before the pledge even came into existence. Andrew Leakey, General Manager, Mars Wrigley Confectionery, India says, “Mars was one of the first companies to launch a responsible marketing program back in 2007. Our marketing guidelines apply to all marketing and communications for human food products and comprise a range of commitments. Some of them are: no advertising to children younger than 12 years of age, or under 13 years for digital communications; no use of celebrities and licensed characters that appeal to children under the age of 12; providing nutritional information on the front of pack; capping single-serve packs of chocolate and confectionery products at 250 calories or fewer to help consumers make smart choices; and not partnering with alcohol or tobacco brands.”
 

As a part of its commitment to the issue, Kellogg India has adopted the Kellogg Global Nutrient Criteria (KGNC), according to which only products which are KGNC-compliant are advertised to children under 12 years of age. A spokesperson says, “As reflected in our Worldwide Marketing and Communication Guidelines, we will continue our practice of not advertising to preschool-going children.”
 

The big question then is, how do companies which have products aimed at children get across to their TG? Many organizations feel that it makes more sense to target the adults, who are the actual gatekeepers of what a child consumes. A spokesperson from Mondelez says, “At Mondelez International, we do not advertise our products directly to children under 12, irrespective of the product’s nutritional profile. We focus all advertising efforts towards the gatekeeper and adults, empowering them with information and product choices to make mindful snacking decisions. This approach is global and applies to every market where we do business, including India.”
 

Coca-Cola also shares this philosophy of reaching out to parents. A spokesperson says, “When it comes to choosing what products children consume, we believe that parents and caregivers should be the decision-makers, not buying into advertising wherein children under 12 make up over 35% of the target audience. Being a consumer-centric company with an extensive portfolio, it is important for us to promote a balanced lifestyle for our consumers.”
 

Reiterating the need for an initiative like this, a Nestlé India spokesperson says, “Nestlé India, along with eight other member companies, has signed the pledge on ‘Responsible Marketing and Communication to children below 12 years’. We strongly believe that providing nutritious, safe and hygienic food is of paramount importance, and this requires a collective approach and involvement of all stakeholders.”
 

On its part, Italian chocolatier Ferrero Rocher agrees that it is preferable to refrain from directing advertising to children when they are most likely exposed to commercial communications without parental supervision. Ambassador Inder Chopra, Secretary General, Ferrero India says, “We have always believed in the crucial role played by parents in educating their children to a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. Ferrero plans to direct its advertising towards families and parents, who are responsible for the product purchasing decisions.”
 

The difference that this commitment makes is something we will have to wait and watch out for. However, as a first step towards bringing about a change in advertising, the India Pledge seems to be a step in the right direction.

 

@ FEEDBACK

samarpita.banerjee@exchange4media.com

Feedback: Category: admin Volume No: 14 Issue No: 34

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