New Delhi: Watch any television channel aimed at children on a Sunday afternoon and the chances are they will be flooded with ads.
From biscuits and chocolates to noodles and ketchup. In between, there are also a host of ads for aerated soft drinks and paan masala.
There may be a major hue and cry in Western markets, particularly in the US, about ads aimed at children, but none of these Indian ads are violating any rules.
That’s because there are no specific guidelines for advertising to children in India.
“Chapter Three of the Advertising Standards Council of India code says products that are harmful for children should not be indiscriminately advertised to kids. But it isnot binding on any party,” notes Sam Balsara, chairman, Madison World, a Mumbai-based marketing communications outfit. Balsara is a member and former chairman of the council. That may be about to change, though.
The council is planning to frame a code of conduct on the issue. “ASCI is working on getting agreements from food companies on how they should promote their products to children,” says Balsara.
Meanwhile, some television channels and most advertisers in India say they self-regulate. “We have a compliance department that ensures harmful products are not advertised on our platform,” says Monica Tata, vice-president, advertising sales, India and South Asia, Turner International India. The latter airs two channels in India, Cartoon Network and Pogo.
Advertising to children has been getting more attention in recent weeks in the global ad fraternity. Earlier this month, 11 food and beverage brands in the US vowed not to advertise products that didn’t meet certain nutritional standards to children below the age of 12.
Hindustan Unilever Ltd says it advertises only healthy foods and beverages to children below the age of 11 and children below the age of six are not targeted by the company.
Indian arms of soft drinks companies PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Inc. also say they show restraint in reaching out to children below the age of 12, in keeping with their global practices. For instance, PepsiCo’s schools policy “has been designed to promote sound nutrition and active lifestyles in schools, by limiting access to some products in our portfolio (such as carbonated soft drinks) and instead providing healthier options such as juices and juice-based beverages,” says a company spokesperson. It is a different matter that children get bombarded with soft drink ads everywhere, including television and outdoors, and in places such as fast-food restaurants.
Catch them young has always been the buzzword in advertising. According to MindShare Insights, the research arm of media buying agency MindShare, brands spent Rs118.5 crore in 2006 on advertising on the 10 children’s channels in India. Food and beverages accounted for almost 60% of that spending. During the first six months of 2007, the channels that primarily target children under 16 got around Rs70 crore in advertising revenue.
And children don’t necessarily watch only kids channels. A 2006 study by Cartoon Network showed children spend a considerable amount of time watching general entertainment, music, sports and films channels, often with their parents. Brands such as Coca- Cola and Pepsi are leading advertisers on these channels.
Similarly, others, such as Perfetti Van Melle India, Cadbury India Ltd, McDonald’s India, Nestle India Ltd, GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals Ltd, National Dairy Development Board and Kellogg India, frequently advertise across channels, including those for children.
Most of these companies didn’t respond to Mint’s queries about their advertising policies and practices aimed at children.
US pizza chain Papa Johns’ franchisee JIP India Pvt. Ltd, while not advertising on TV yet, runs on-ground promotional activities, particularly in schools. A Papa Johns executive said the company was unaware of any specific guidelines regarding advertising to children.
“We tie up with schools to increase our visibility among children and sponsor activities on events such as Children’s Day,” said Taran Deep, head, marketing, Papa Johns.
Adds Dev Amritesh, chief of marketing, Domino’s Pizza India: “We have no distinct guidelines on advertising to youngsters. We do advertise on children’s channels, but only 2% of our ad budget goes there” (some family members of the promoters of Domino’s Pizza India Ltd are also significant shareholders in HT Media Ltd, the publisher of Mint).
Marketers say India isn’t ready for more regulation on this front. “India is still a nutrition-deficient country. Such guidelines are more applicable to developed countries, where obesity and related health issues have assumed huge proportions,” says Sameer Suneja, head, marketing, Perfetti. Agrees Sanchayeeta Bhattacharya, national director, MindShare Insights: “The issue is under the magnifying glass in the West because obesity is rampant there. Though imminent, India has not felt the threat yet.”