Despite claims of corporate social responsibility, it appears that food manufacturers have swapped banned television advertising for social media activities – leading to calls to include “editorial” content in the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
According to the Guardian report:
At the beginning of July, the sweet brand Skittles paid a six-figure sum to set up a profile on the social networking site Bebo which has already been viewed more than 50,000 times and attracted more than 3,500 “friends”. In an interview with the Guardian, a Bebo spokesman described these “friends” as “brand ambassadors”. Bebo users have to declare they are at least 13, but it is known that much younger children do use the site.
Apparently such sites are not viewed as advertising (which they clearly are), but as editorial. As well as a presence on social networking sites, brands are accused of using games, videos and cartoons on special websites to attract young audiences.
Claims from the PR representatives of this companies that their activities are responsible seem flimsy with arguments that the products are promoted as part of a healthy diet or that sites state adult permission should be sought by under-16s.
I don’t object to the right of these brands to exist and go about their business – but as Nic Howell, deputy editor of New Media Age says:
“The issue of fast food brands targeting kids has been all but dealt with when it comes to television and print advertising but it seems that some in the industry are going to fight for their right to advertise to kids to the very last”.
Nevertheless, I live in hope that transparency and greater recognition of what is deemed unethical will lead to changes in the way in which marketing and PR undertakes promotional activities.