Should online "editorial" be regulated?

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 (). 

According to the Guardian report:

At the beginning of July, the sweet brand paid a six-figure sum to set up a profile on the social networking site 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.

Published by

Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

5 thoughts on “Should online "editorial" be regulated?”

  1. You “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.”

    I can’t even imagine how much I’d have to drink to maintain that level of enchantment. Suffice to say, A LOT!


    – Amanda

  2. Interesting to read about this, particularly in light of Kellogg’s public declaration this past June that it will stop advertising directly to children. That, of course, was the result of huge public pressure and potential American lawsuits. (As you know, Kellogg Canada is the client of a PR agency friend, and she worked directly on the national arm of the campaign.) I would hope for Kellogg, at least, the CSR extend to social media.

    Did you see/hear about this recent study/news release from the US-based Kaiser Family Foundation?

    First Analysis of Online Food Advertising Targeting Children

    Food Company Websites Feature Advergames, Viral Marketing, TV ads, and Incentives for Product Purchases

    (I wonder if they know about Skittles?)


  3. Amanda – there is a certain amount of alcohol involved in maintaining hope, but despair of any improvement in promotional activities would lead me to the bottle even more.

    Judy – I hadn’t seen that study. Let’s hope Kelloggs does walk the talk – maybe even proving Amanda’s cynicism wrong!

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