FTC Backs Self-Regulation
NEW YORK The Federal Trade Commission, in its
report on the marketing of food to kids, handed the
food industry a massive victory this week in its fight
to avoid regulation over the childhood obesity issue.
The report found no area of kids-oriented food marketing
that would require regulation. Instead, the FTC called
for more companies to join the industry's voluntary
self-regulation group, the Children's Food and Beverage
Advertising Initiative, established by the Council of
Better Business Bureaus in November 2006.
In only one area did the FTC appear to have views that
pose a threat to Big Food's status quo: What counts as a
kids' TV show.
The report noted that American Idol, American
Dad, Family Guy and The Simpsons
"commanded the largest percentage share of teens 12-17
in the audience during the 2005-06 television year." But
because only 20 percent of the shows' combined audience
consists of children, they are counted as adult programs
in terms of self-regulation.
"The data serve to illustrate the point that children
and teenagers are exposed to a great deal of advertising
that may be targeted to a general audience comprised
mainly of adults," the report said. "On average, more
than 2 million teens watched American Idol, and
more than 1 million watched American Dad and
Family Guy during the 2005-2006 time frame . . .
more than 3 million children watched American Idol,
and more than 1 million watched Unan1mous and
The FTC found that unnamed marketers used those shows to
reach kids with junk food ads: "One carbonated beverage
company, however, acknowledged that ad placements on
these shows were part of its marketing strategy to reach
teens. In addition, at least two companies have
affiliated their brands with shows such as American
Idol in order to reach children and teens -- one
through toy premiums for children's meals and the other
through sponsorship of the American Idol Live!
The FTC did not name the marketers, although PepsiCo,
Coca-Cola, Red Bull and Rockstar were among the 44
companies that received a demand for information in
preparation of the report.
The definition of a kids' show is important because,
currently, under the self-regulation initiative, 13 food
companies (that produce a majority of the food marketed
to children) have pledged either to not advertise to
kids under 12, or to only advertise healthy food to that
The TV show issue is "the one thing that makes me
nervous," said John Feldman, a partner at Reed Smith,
Washington, which represents food companies. Feldman
called it a potential future "battleground." He added:
"It's the one place where the FTC is not in sync with
self-regulation -- I do not think that's where CARU is."
(The Children's Advertising Regulation Unit is the
voluntary division of the CBBB that hears disputes over
Diana Garza Ciarlante, a representative at Coca-Cola,
echoed Feldman's sentiment. "Evidence suggests that
young people over 12 understand advertising messages.
It's also important to note that a wide variety of
Coca-Cola brands are advertised on family programming
and collectively, they represent less than 20 percent of
the figure quoted here . . . American Idol and
The Simpsons are family entertainment programs,"
Dan Jaffe, evp of the Association of National
Advertisers, said he would oppose any move to restrict
business placed on those shows: "Over and over again it
has been made clear that advertising to adults should be
'adult,' and we don't want to lower our discourse to the
level of the sandbox. It's very hard to start saying,
'Gee, you can't advertise anywhere because someone's
child may see it.'"
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