Singapore’s tough new guidelines on food marketing to kids

Standfirst: Marketers looking to reach children under 12 will require a nutrition compliance certificate. More here on the guidelines that will kick in next year. Rezwana Manjur reports.

After two years of mulling over advertising standards, the government has released new guidelines detailing the standards of advertising imposed for children. These guidelines will kick in from January next year where food and beverage products companies will only be allowed to promote products through marketing communications activities if the products meet the “common nutrition criteria”.

The common nutrition criteria is a framework to help food manufacturers determine which food and beverage products can be advertised to children based on nutrition content. The criteria applies to both packaged food and food services. Advertisers wishing to promote food and beverage products primarily targeted at children aged 12 years and below will need to complete the nutrition criteria compliance certificate and provide the media owner with the certificate.

For any food or beverage marketing communication not accompanied by a duly completed certificate, media owners should assume the product does not meet the common nutrition criteria.

Meanwhile, food and beverage marketing communications primarily targeted at children in all media will be assessed using the following criteria:

Placement – whether the key target audience of the medium is children. For example, a TV channel that only broadcasts children’s programmes or a TV channel that broadcasts children’s programmes in specific time belts. There should also not be any fixed outdoor advertising within 50 metres of a primary school.

Advertising content – whether advertising tools and techniques used are designed to appeal specifically to children. Examples would include the use of licensed characters or toys; use of interactive games or contests; and overall creative execution such as the use of language and visuals that are directed primarily at children.

The guidelines were developed by a public-private partnership consortium comprising stakeholders from MOH, HPB, ASAS, a council of the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE), Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF), Food Industry Asia (FIA) as well as representatives from media and advertising industries.

ASAS will also be conducting workshops in November to provide training for key stakeholders such as brand owners, media owners, media compliance officers, creative and media agencies.

If advertisers are found not to be keeping in line with the prescribed guidelines, ASAS will first ask them to amend the advertisement. Subsequently, ASAS will work with media owners to withhold the advertising space. ASAS will also take steps to name and shame the advertisers if these criteria are not met.

ASAS also urges advertisers to keep in mind that marketing communications for food and beverage products primarily addressed to children should not imply that children are likely to be ridiculed, inferior to others, less popular, disloyal or have let someone down if they or their family do not use the advertised product.

The products should also not urge children to buy the food or beverage product, or persuade others to buy the products for them, via “high pressure” and “hard sell” techniques.

“Words or the tones adopted in the advertisement should not cajole, pressure or bully children or their parents into buying the food or beverage product,” said ASAS in the guidelines. The ads are also urged not to feature prices with words such as “only” or “just”, which implies a level of affordability.

Meanwhile, popular personalities or celebrities (live or animated) well-known among children must also not suggest that consumption of the product would enable children to resemble an admired figure or role model.

They must also not suggest the non-consumption of the product would imply the children are not being loyal to the figure or role. However, popular personalities or celebrities may present factual and relevant statements about nutrition and health.

This follows a major move sweeping across the globe at this point. In September this year, eleven CEOs of the world’s leading food and non-alcoholic beverage companies and members of the International Food & Beverage Alliance (IFBA), also announced global commitments in the field of food and non-alcoholic beverage marketing to children.

These companies include the likes of The Coca Cola Company, McDonald’s, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, General Mills, Grupo Bimbo, Ferrero, Mars and Kellogg’s.

These new guidelines include extending the bans on media that targets kids – from TV, print, etc, to include radio, cinema, direct marketing, mobile and SMS marketing, interactive games, DVD/CD-ROM and product placement.

There will also be restrictions on the use of advertising techniques designed to appeal to kids where the products do not meet agreed nutritional criteria.

This move is expected to have a major impact on the way marketers operate.