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Advertising & Product Risk Management Alerts

Think of the Children: Guidelines for Advertising Food and Alcohol


Recent Happenings in APRM
October 2014

At this year's National Advertising Division (NAD) and Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) annual conferences in New York City, one of the themes that emerged was sensitivity to the portrayal of food and beverages, particularly snack food and alcoholic beverages. Advertisers were urged not to condone abusive consumption, particularly in messaging targeted at the young or underaged.

Maureen Enright, Deputy Director of the Council for Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, highlighted the initiative guidelines and encouraged all advertisers, whether pledged participants of the initiative or not, to consider the guidelines when developing food and beverage advertising targeted at children. These guidelines include, for example, the use of reasonable portions, the avoidance of disparaging healthy choices or lifestyles, the depiction of food in a framework of natural balance and the depiction of snack food as such, rather than a snack as dinner food or vice-versa. 

The newest FTC Commissioner, Terrell McSweeney, also spoke at the CARU event, and she echoed an intention to focus on children's health as one of her primary goals as commissioner (along with a focus on children's data security). 

Advertisers should assume that claims made about food and beverages will continue to be under high levels of scrutiny in the coming year, particularly for products that involve snacks, high sugar or other aspects seen as potentially problematic in the age of obesity concerns.

The conference also included the launch of Digital Guiding Principles for the Self-Regulation of Marketing Communications for Beverage Alcohol, the first ever set of global guidelines for beverage and alcohol producers to require the content of online marketing to meet the same standards applied to traditional marketing activities. The guidelines for traditional marketing include the use of a responsible drinking messages, portraying responsible consumption, avoidance of portraying moderate consumption in a negative way are all themes echoed in the children's food initiative. These traditional guidelines align in many ways with those noted for advertising food to young children. 

The announcement of the Digital Guiding Principles on September 30, 2014 marked the extension of the underlying responsible alcohol marketing principles to the digital arena, by encouraging the use of age appropriate techniques such as (a) age-affirmation mechanisms; (b) placement of marketing in age-appropriate media; and (c) warnings against forwarding content to minors. Likewise, the guidelines included recommendations for maintaining responsible consumption messaging in digital forums, including (a) clearly visible responsible drinking messages; (b) monitoring of user-generated content; (c) transparency about commercial purposes; and (d) respect for user privacy.

As with the CBBB children's food guidelines, the Digital Guiding Principles need not be viewed as exclusively a list of obligations for participant alcohol advertisers, but instead as helpful benchmarks for any advertiser whose product may invoke age or responsible use concerns.

For more information, please contact the professional(s) listed below, or your regular Crowell & Moring contact.

Christopher A. Cole
Partner – Washington, D.C.
Phone: +1 202.624.2701