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    Wednesday, 4 July 2007

    'The ban on junk food advertising - a charade?' and other questions

    Much news on the advertising front...

    First, the consumer group Which? has published a study which illustrates its view that the ban on the advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar in spots around children's programming will be ineffective (1). The study, based on a survey of ITV1 shows between 28 May and 10 June, found that none of the top 20 shows and only seven of the top 50 shows watched by children would be free of adverts for chocolate, cola, burgers and pizza.

    This is because Ofcom rejected a 9pm watershed for junk-food ads, but decided instead to bar them from programmes with a high proportion of child viewers. Kids favourite shows have proved to be those also popular with adults in the early evening prime-time family-viewing slots. This fact was not unknown to Ofcom. It has estimated that the chosen option will cut the number of junk-food ads viewed by children by 41% at a cost to broadcasters of £39m. The more effective 9pm watershed approach would likely cost £263m. The Which? research suggests that the 41% figure is a serious over-estimate.

    Coincidentally - at least according to its Chief Marketing Officer - Pizza Hut has adopted a new marketing policy which will see significantly less advertising on television and a greater emphasis on brand promotion and online marketing. Also reading the zeitgeist, former government minister Chris Smith - who has become the new Chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority - has indicated that the ASA is to invigorate its attitude towards online advertising (1). The vast majority of internet-related complaints fall outside the regulator's competence as they involve editorial website claims. The ASA remit only covers paid-for advertising on the internet. Nonetheless, the public perceive websites to be part-and-parcel of the advertisers' toolkit. Smith is likely to press for the agreement of some industry standard, perhaps similar to the existing codes for broadcast and non-broadcast advertisements overseen by the ASA.

    Elsewhere in the advertising domain, Fergie - the female singer with the Black Eyed Peas, and solo artist - has become the first pop star to agree to include explicit product placement in her songs. She's signed a $4m deal with a skimpy, teen-oriented clothing line. Its not a million miles away from what happens now in music, cinema (obviously!), tv, books, and even Presidential statements (announcing Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, George W Bush said "it's tough in a time of war, when people see carnage on their Dell television screens". Dell's chairman is a major donor), but I'd have thought that the move was destined to make her seriously uncool. But they're smart those marketing guys. They are also planning to give away clothing makeovers at Fergie's concerts to keep the tweenies hooked.

    Meanwhile, Michael Grade - the executive Chairman of ITV plc - has called for additional advertising time in its peak viewing hours in order to fund investment in regional programming (1). Ofcom currently limits ITV to a maximum average of 8 minutes of advertising in peak time (with an individual maximum of 12 minutes per hour). This contrasts with the 9 minute average allowed to digital channels.

    Grade also proposed the streamlining of the ITV regional franchise system on the basis that the 15 ITV regions are a legacy of the technological capacities at the time of introduction of commercial television and make little sense on cultural grounds. Of course, ITV plc now holds 11 of the 15 regional licences (bar two in Scotland, and one each in NI and the Channel Islands) alongside a healthy stake in the morning tv franchise GMTV, and so a consolidation of programming would make perfect sense for it.

    Finally, to rehearse an old complaint (1,2,3), Friends of the Earth have launched a campaign on climate change which involves the airing of an advertisement in cinemas, not on television or radio due to the questionable ban on political advertising on such platforms (1).

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