Industry: Updated Children's Ad Guidelines Needed Now

The Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) is days away from completing a review of its guidelines. Speakers at an industry conference on advertising regulation said changes couldn't come too soon, as Congress considers sharpening laws on how companies market to kids.

Both Daniel Jaffe, executive vice president, Association of National Advertisers, and his opponent Margo Wootan, director of nutritional policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, agreed that CARU (part of the Council of Better Business Bureaus) should act now or government will do it for them. Their remarks came as part of the two-day NAD Annual Conference in New York. NAD is the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

"CARU has standards on how snacks can be portrayed or sold to children, but outdated standards on, specifically, the kinds of food that is or isn't appropriate for kids," said Wootan, noting that companies spend $10 billion a year marketing food to kids through branded books, licensed products, and product placement. She said CARU lacks actionable guidelines. "Yes, CARU acknowledges that cartoons affect how children react to products, but they need to say: 'It's inappropriate to put characters on foods for kids that are of low nutritional quality.'"



Jaffe, arguing that legislators and politicians are becoming overzealous, cited the Senate Telecommunications Bill amendment called the Rockefeller Amendment that would prevent any interactivity with commercial matter directed to children. "That means no episode of 'Sesame Street' could include a link to the 'Sesame Street' Web site," he said. Politicians are clouding the issue and looking to score easy points, he charged, by wedding the childhood obesity epidemic to advertising to children.

To dramatize his point, Jaffe offered quotes from Sen. Alan Harkin ("We are exploiting our children--we are pouring acid on their innocence"), drawing a few audible gasps from the audience. "Our industry," he said, "faces the most serious attack on advertising since the early 1970s." Jaffe said that according to Nielsen Media data, spending on TV ads directed at children has actually declined 13 percent since 1993, and 34 percent since the mid-1970s.

Attorney Jodie Bernstein of Bryan Cave LLP, former director of consumer protection at the Federal Trade Commission, was chosen by the Council of Better Business Bureaus to lead the CARU review of self-regulatory guidelines for children's programming. Bernstein evoked rounds of raucous laughter by joking that she had nothing to say, because the review, which started in March and was meant to conclude in July, is still being hammered out by a working group that has included representatives from as many as 50 companies, including Yahoo and Nickelodeon, as well as advertising agencies.

She did allow that the review has focused on four broad areas: food advertising to children; games and interactive Web sites; use of third-party characters in ads and products; and product placement.

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