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The following article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on November 1st 2010. What do you think?
ADVERTISERS are bypassing rules aimed at curbing junk food marketing to children by claiming their ads are targeting adults, an analysis claims.The industry ad watchdog dismissed complaints about ads for Oreo, Smarties and LCMs rice bars after accepting manufacturers’ claims that their ads were aimed at adults, despite the presence of children in the television commercials.

Ads for chips, sweets or fizzy drinks are covered by industry guidelines only if their content is “directed primarily at children”.

Health campaigners such as the Obesity Policy Coalition say the rulings by the board of the Advertising Standards Bureau have made it uncertain what constitutes an ad for children.

The coalition’s senior legal adviser, Sarah MacKay, said the lack of definition in the rules had allowed a loophole for advertisers to emerge. The Oreo and Smarties ads were pulled after they were found to have been aired during children’s programs, thereby breaching the industry rule that says only ads for healthy foods can be shown in children’s programs.

“It seems an absurd outcome that an ad that only features children playing a childlike game [as in the Oreo ad] that is shown in Dora the Explorer is not captured by the code,” Ms MacKay said. “We are worried that it’s going to set a precedent. If these aren’t ads directed at children then I don’t know what is.”

A complaint about a Smarties website was also rejected by the bureau’s board after it agreed with Nestle that the content of the website, which included a colouring competition for three- to 10-year-olds, was not directed at children but rather to mothers as an aid for craft ideas for children.

There are four industry codes governing the advertising of junk food to children, but not all agree on a single definition of a child or a children’s program.

Health campaigners have consistently argued the industry’s narrow definition of where junk food ads cannot appear – namely in children’s programs – is meaningless because more children are watching popular early evening shows. An Australian Communications and Media Authority review in 2006 found that the average television audience of under-12s leaps from 80,000 between 4pm and 5pm – when children’s programs are aired – to 500,000 between 7pm and 8pm.

No one at the bureau or the Oreo manufacturer, Kraft, was able to comment. Nestle apologised for airing the Smarties ad in children’s programs.