This post was written by Peter Le Guay, Partner at Thomson Playford Cutlers.

The Initiative

Childhood obesity has become a major public health issue in Australia with evidence showing that excessive consumption of foods high in fat, sugar and salt is a major contributor to childhood obesity.

One of the most recent steps implemented to combat childhood obesity is the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative for Responsible Advertising and Marketing to Children (“Initiative”) developed by the Australian Association of National Advertisers (“AANA”) in conjunction with a number of fast food companies in Australia.

The Initiative, a self-regulatory scheme, commenced on 1 August 2009 and covers fast food ads run during children’s television viewing times as well as internet sites and computer games targeting children.

The aim of the Initiative is to ensure that only food and/or beverages that represent healthier choices are promoted directly to children (defined as being persons under the age of 14 years) and to ensure that parents or guardians can make informed product choices for their children.

The Initiative requires signatories to ensure that advertising or marketing to children for food and/or beverages represents:

(a)   healthier choices as determined by a defined set of nutritional criteria (being new sugar, salt and fat limits prepared in consultation with dieticians); and
(b)   a healthy lifestyle designed to appeal to the audience through messaging which encourages healthier choices and physical activity.

In addition, signatories must:

  • not engage in product related communication in Australian schools except where specifically requested or agreed to with the school administration;
  • not use popular personalities or licensed characters to promote food or beverage products to children unless that communication complies with (a) and (b) above;
  • not advertise premium offers in any medium directed to children; and
  • ensure that nutritional information is provided on packaging wherever possible including on company websites or upon request.

Major fast food companies such as McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Hungry Jack’s, Oporto, Red Rooster and Chicken Treat have supported the Initiative. However, other major fast food companies such as Nandos and Dominos Pizza are yet to sign.

Complaints in relation to alleged breaches of the Initiative can be made in writing to the Advertising Standards Bureau.

In addition to adhering to the specific rules set out in the Initiative, signatories are also required to abide by the following Codes of the AANA:

1.      AANA Code for Advertising & Marketing Communications to Children

The object of this Code is to ensure that advertisers and marketers develop and maintain a high sense of social responsibility in advertising and marketing to children in Australia. The Code contains, among other things, a prohibition on the sexualisation of children (defined as being a person aged 14 years or younger) or using sexual imagery in advertising/marketing to children that is contrary to prevailing community standards, as well as a prohibition on the portrayal of unsafe situations or unsafe use of products which may encourage children to engage in dangerous activities.

2.      AANA Food and Beverages Advertising & Marketing Communications Code

The object of this Code is to ensure that advertisers and marketers develop and maintain a high sense of social responsibility in advertising and marketing food and beverage products in Australia. The Code states, among other things, that advertising/marketing to children (defined as being 14 years or younger) must be designed and delivered in a manner to be understood by those children and shall not mislead or deceive in relation to any nutritional or health claims. Also, such communications must not state or imply that possession of or use of a food or beverage product will provide physical, social or psychological advantage over other children and shall not include any “pester power” appeal to children to urge adults responsible for their welfare to buy a particular food or beverage item for them.

3.      AANA Code of Ethics

The object of this Code is to ensure that advertisements are legal, decent, honest and truthful and that they have been prepared with a sense of obligation to the consumer and society and a fair sense of responsibility tocompetitors.

The Initiative follows recent changes to the new Children’s Television Standards (2009) which come into effect on 1 January 2010. Details of the 2009 Standards are set out below.

Children’s Television Standards (2009)

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (“ACMA”), a statutory authority responsible for the regulation of broadcasting, the internet, radio communication and telecommunications in Australia, released the Children’s Television Standards (2009) and a final report on the review of the Children’s Television Standards (2005) in August 2009.

The review and subsequent amendment of the Children’s Television Standards (“CTS”) was conducted to ensure the continued relevance and effectiveness of the Standards. The new CTS apply to licensed broadcasters on commercial free-to-air television. Changes to the CTS include:

  • Premium offers: Where a food product is advertised, reference to the non-food products must now be merely incidental to the food product.
  • Promotions: Changes to the broadcast schedule for C programs (being programs for children under 14 years of age) and P programs (being programs for preschool children) programs must be appropriately promoted.
  • Timing of C programs: Morning C band has been extended to 8:30am on weekdays.
  • Notification of Schedules, Schedule Variation and Displacement: Licensed broadcasters must submit C and P period schedules to ACMA on an annual basis. Licensed broadcasters must also submit variations and displacements to their P and C schedules and must publish information identifying P and C programs in the main program guide on their website.
  • Use of Popular Characters in Advertising: The promotion and endorsement of commercial products and services by popular characters and personalities is no longer permitted during C and P programs, subject to exemptions.
  • Block Programming: An option for broadcasters to provide a clear destination for children’s programming with a one hour minimum requirement has been introduced.

The CTS operate in conjunction with other industry and voluntary codes of practice and government legislation, including:

  • The Broadcasting Services (Australian Content) Standard 2005: This Standard, among other things, contains provisions relating to the broadcast of Australian children drama programs;
  • Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice: This Code regulates the content of free-to-air commercial television; and
  • The AANA Code for Advertising & Marketing Communications to Children.