Should junk food ads be banned on kids' channels?

MUMBAI: Just a few days ago, there were whispers of a possible ban on junk food ads on kids’ channels that were quickly rebutted by information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani. Though the ministry has clarified that such a stand hasn’t been taken, it would be worthwhile to consider the pros and cons of such a move.

There’s a need to worry about all kids who watch television frequently are susceptible to bad eating habits. According to studies, teenagers who watch television for more than three hours daily are twice as likely to eat more snacks like crisps, biscuits, fizzy drinks and chocolates thanks to the commercials they watch along the way.

At present, Britannia’s Treat cream biscuits and Fruity Fun cake, Waffy, Rich Feast Yum Pie, Diamond Rings, McDonald’s Snoopy Meals, ITC’s Bingo No Rulz and Dark Fantasy biscuits are some of the brands that are running campaigns on kids’ channels.

Looking at the situation from a broadcaster’s point of view, a blanket ban on junk food advertisements will hamper their monetisation ability. These ads, however, are likely affecting the health of children. When reached out to kids’ channels, none of them were willing to speak up on the issue.

FMCG brands will be the hardest hit since kids these days are the driving force behind the purchase choices of parents. The demand may dwindle if they are asked to put a full stop to the advertisements and the market share of their products may nosedive to a certain extent.

When asked about the merits and demerits of this proposal, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc brand-expert and founder Harish Bijoor says that kids’ channels are meant for kids. “Any brand that is not considered kid-friendly in terms of health, attitude development, learning or frivolity of use, must not be allowed on such channels. That wouldn’t be responsible advertising.” 

Stratagem Media director Sundeep Nagpal also has the same view as Bijoor. According to him, such proposals are made keeping in mind the welfare of our country’s future. “The eventual outcome would only benefit the children of this country, several millions of whom are getting progressively affected by the consumption of junk food.”

A news report in 2017 stated that Britannia had around 35 per cent share in premium cream biscuits and the idea was to build the share to 50 per cent in two years. The company will be investing Rs 50 crore on Treat in the next nine to 12 months while the total investment for the premium cream biscuit category would be Rs 100 crore for the same time frame. The company is planning to achieve this through multiple activities, straddling between Pure Magic, Bourbon and Treat.

Bijoor says that some of the FMCG brands will get affected whereas others will not. Brands that appeal to children without the harmful effects of junk food will find a platform on such channels to advertise. FMCG players that create such products will, therefore, remain unaffected. Nagpal, however, recommends that one shouldn’t fall for the plight of the manufacturers.

When asked whether the creative and storytelling need to change, Nagpal says, “The powers that be on issues like these should put a stop to such hypocritical practices. Any change in storytelling for such products would be an attempt to sell something harmful under a guise. So, this should not even be allowed under the garb of surrogate advertising.”

Bijoor believes that the product must be first analysed as being fit for kids’ consumption and only after that should any other development happen.

According to another media report, ITC expects the chocolate category to contribute to 10 per cent to its food division revenue in the next five years. The company will extend the Sunfeast brand to all core biscuit segments, like Marie (an English tea biscuit), glucose, milk, and crackers. Dark Fantasy, meanwhile, will span the indulgence space and cover products across biscuits and cakes (including Yumfills). Farmlite, catering to the health space (biscuit segment), and Mom’s Magic, in the cookies segment, will be the other two brands.

Children today are increasingly susceptible to obesity and the growing trend of unhealthy food habits and lifestyles are major offenders. Going by the current trends, the World Health Organisation contends that nearly 70 million children will be overweight or obese by 2025. That's a scary prediction considering the serious health risks are associated with obesity. Considering the fact that the government told Parliament that nine major operators in the food-processing business have voluntarily decided not to advertise products with high fat on children's channels while the Food and Beverage Alliance of India (FBAI) is already instituting mechanisms to restrict advertising of food and beverage items concerning children voluntarily, the tide seems to be turning.

Another approach to reducing the intake of commodities such as pre-packed foods with high salt and fat content, sweetened beverages, chips and among others maybe to impose additional taxes.

It is clear that a ban on junk food ads on kids' channels will have far-reaching ramifications for the advertiser-broadcaster ecosystem. At a time when child obesity rates and lifestyle diseases are on an alarming rise, it would be prudent for FMCG players to take a step back and re-examine their advertising strategy and build goodwill in the long run. 

Also Read :

No proposal to ban junk food ads on TV: Smriti Irani

Kids' candy segment: Communication sees a shift

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