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Social Responsibility in Advertising Food and Advertising to Children

A number of ASA codes have a requirement for ‘a due sense of social responsibility’ and a “high standard of responsibility’ is in the Code for Advertising Liquor, the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code, the Therapeutic Services Advertising Code, the Code for Weight Management and the Code for Advertising Gaming and Gambling in addition to the Code for the Advertising of Food and the Code for Advertising to Children.

What is socially responsible in advertising depends on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing community standards. One of the benefits of a principle and rule approach of the Advertising Codes of Practice is that the interpretation of the codes can move in response to what the community may find more or less acceptable. A simple example is that Society today is more tolerant of certain words such as ‘bugger’ and ‘bloody idiot’, which would not have been acceptable 20 years ago. On the other hand tolerance of violence in advertisements has become more conservative over the same time period.

It is also important to note that while a number of guidelines are included in the Codes to illustrate the principles of a due sense or high standard of social responsibility – the Complaints Boards are not restricted in their interpretation of the principle to the actual listed guidelines. It is possible for an advertisement to be in breach of the principle without being in breach of a specific guideline.

The Committee that reviewed the Code for the Advertising of Food and the Code for Advertising to Children in 2005/6 recommended that the ASA provide more detail on its website about the concept of social responsibility to assist consumers with regard to the application of these rules by the Complaints Board.

To illustrate this, the following Advertising Standards Complaints Board decisions reflect the application of the code principles requiring a due sense or a high standard of social responsibility.

A key reason for the different standards of social responsibility is the type of product or service being advertised and the intended audience. Therefore, for example, advertising to children requires a high standard of social responsibility – as does the advertising of therapeutic products and services and the advertising of alcohol.

In one Decision for a snack food advertisement (03/08), the Advertising Standards Complaints Board ruled that a depiction of teenagers on a beach digging a hole that was then covered with a towel resulting in another teenager falling into a deep hole with a thump was not socially responsible.

In another Decision (04/127) describing a sweet as zero percent fat and noting that glucose was one of the best sources of energy for the brain, the Board upheld the complaint and agreed that the claims in the advertisement did not meet a high standard of social responsibility.

The Board also ruled on the requirement for a high standard of social responsibility in Decisions 04/090 and 05/091. In a promotion for a range of Easter eggs a toddler and then a teenager were used to illustrate the size of a one kilogram “Pig Out” Easter egg. The Board upheld complaints in both cases, agreeing that the use of toddlers or a teenager in association with one kilogram of chocolate did not meet the requirement for a high standard of social responsibility in advertising that would have appeal to children.

In a decision on advertising for a lunch box snack food (08/241) the Complaints Board ruled that the advertisements, which promoted the collection of rugby player collectable cards found within packets of the food, were likely to encourage excessive consumption and did not meet a high standard of social responsibility.

The Complaints Board also found in decision 09/786 that website advertising for a caffeinated energy drink would be likely to encourage children to purchase the product and consume it inappropriately, and did not meet a high standard of social responsibility.

The following is a list of recent Advertising Standards Complaints Board decisions considered under Code for the Advertising of Food and/or the Code for Advertising to Children that will provide precedents for your information in relation to social responsibility.

DECISION EXAMPLES 2005 ONWARDS

The following links are to Decisions and Chairman’s Rulings that were dealt with under Principle 2 of the Code for Advertising to Children or Principle 3 of the Code for Advertising of Food - both of which require a high standard of social responsibility.


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