Blog: Dean BestWhy EU ad pledge will make compulsive viewing

Dean Best | 17 December 2007

In a bid to display their seriousness in tackling child obesity, the EU's biggest food firms signed up to a set of marketing commitments last week.

Similar moves in the US are, after initial fierce criticism, slowly gaining support and it has quickly become clear that the European initiative will also have to overcome the sceptics.

The EU Pledge – signed by food and beverage firms that account for around two-thirds of the annual marketing spend in the sector – is a voluntary undertaking to curb advertising to children. Consumer groups have expressed scepticism and have continued to call for legislation rather than self-regulation. That concern, though, is to be expected; it is only once initiatives like the EU Pledge have demonstrated their effectiveness that they start to gain any kind of credibility.

However, like many self-regulatory initiatives, the pledge will have the problem of not representing the entire industry. While a number of major companies have signed up, there are some notable absentees, not least McDonald's, a major advertiser to children and a company that often attracts the ire of pressure groups.

To its credit, the requirements of the EU Pledge do go further than current advertising codes of practice in most EU countries. Its proponents point out that it is the first time in Europe that a group of companies has set up a common framework on advertising to children, and the first time a unified age benchmark has been agreed. Nevertheless, the decision not to opt for a self-imposed time watershed will attract criticism. This aspect of the pledge could be a weakness that critics of the scheme will look to exploit.

One thing is certain – it’s a topic that does – and will continue to – make for compulsive viewing as we head into 2008.


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