Last month, the ‘pre-roll’ advertisement in question played to hundreds of thousands of children, and their parents, preparing to watch Joe Wicks’ physical education series: PE with Joe.
The YouTube series, which screens weekdays, is designed to help ensure children get adequate exercise while schools are shut in the UK, amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
A complaint made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), prompted the watchdog to step in. The celebrity fitness coach has no control over which companies advertise on his channel.
The complaint was successfully resolved, with Kellogg’s avoiding a formal regulatory investigation into its online advertising practices. The food major has made the decision to drop all advertising from Joe Wicks’ Body Coach YouTube channel.
What was the problem?
Under current government legislation, food and drink companies are banned from promoting their ‘less healthy’ products on children’s television, or any media channel, with an audience of more than 25% under-16s.
However, health campaigners argue that such businesses regularly find ‘loopholes’ for online platforms and social media, as well as for peak-time family TV viewing, to ‘lure children in’.
In a statement published by Action on Salt, Action on Sugar, and Children’s Food Campaign, the lobby groups suggest that other companies have found similar loopholes online.
“[Mondelēz-owned] Oreos has also placed pre-roll ads on Joe Wicks’ YouTube channel at a time when children of all ages are eagerly searching through and playing all the content from their favourite celebrities,” they wrote.
Indeed, the campaigners claim an Oreos advert is the subject of a separate complaint recently submitted to the ASA awaiting verdict.
Commenting on Kellogg’s Pringles advert, Children’s Food Campaign spokesperson Barbara Crowther described the placement as ‘highly insensitive’ and ‘irresponsible marketing’. “Children don’t need more salt, more saturated fat, more sugar, more excess calories being pushed to them during a pandemic; or indeed at any time.”
The campaign group has also taken issue with the ASA’s response to the complaint: “The Advertising Standards Authority also has an important role to play in enforcing the rules, yet they have allowed Kellogg’s, a known repeat offender, to just ‘settle out of court’.”
For Kellogg's part, the company said it was not its intention to advertise Pringles to a younger audience.
"We are careful about where we place our advertising as we know we have a responsibility to act in the right way," noted the company.
"Joe’s fitness channel has historically been aimed at adults which was the case when we placed our advert on it. His audience shifted recently with the launch of ‘PE With Joe’. As soon as we were made aware that the audience of his channel had changed, we took steps to remove our advertising and we have put measures in place to prevent a repeat.’’
A call for action
Both Action on Salt & Sugar, and Children’s Food Campaign, are calling on food and drink companies to stop advertising products high in fat, salt or sugar before 9pm on all media platforms during the coronavirus crisis.
The Government has consulted on such plans, yet the outcome has yet to be announced.
“At this time, when health is more important than ever and our health systems and government are under enormous pressure, we are calling for the British food and drink industry to unite in the interests of public health and, through a voluntary ‘moratorium’, remove all forms of unhealthy advertising across all media platforms before 9pm during the current pandemic,” said Campaign Director at Action on Salt and Sugar, Katharine Jenner.
Article updated 28 May 2020 to include comment from Kellogg's.