Insider’s Guide: Permission-based regulations

In 1962 the Royal College of Physicians called for a ban on the advertising of tobacco, but it wasn’t until 2012 that we final regulated away the last of it. For 50 years a fast moving and highly innovative advertising industry ducked and weaved its way around each generation of regulations. Do you remember when all the Formula 1 cars were covered in tobacco ads? If we want to avoid another long game of cat and mouse on junk food marketing to kids then we need a different approach.

In our third marketing insider’s guide to regulating junk food marketing we look at permission rather than restriction-based regulations.

The 2017 non-broadcast CAP regulations on digital advertising are a masterpiece of deception. They restrict something which never existed. The regulations ban advertising on sites deemed to be a children’s environment, based on 25% or more of audience – this excludes Google and other search engines, Facebook and other social networks and has only limited impact on You Tube. In fact other than a modest limit on You Tube it doesn't include any of the top 50 most popular website. It restricts advertising of junk food on sites such as Disney, Nickleodeon and Club Penguin who to the best of my recollection, from 23 years working in digital advertising, never carried that kind of advertising.

How could such a shame become regulation? The answer is simply that one-side of the debate is data-rich, fast moving, innovative and equipped with the deep understand of how digital advertising works – the other side is not.

This is but one example, and the same is sadly true across the whole field of this issue. The advertising industry will always be faster and more innovative than government, regulators and campaigners as speed, creativity and risk are that is its DNA.

The solution is permission-based regulations rather than restriction-based regulations. You change the question – from what should we ban to under what circumstances is it okay to market unhealthy food to kids?

We define those, if any, which are okay, we permit them and all else are deemed restricted. To support this approach, you need a mechanism to enable marketing innovators to confidentially seek approval for their new ideas, and then to be judged by a suitable competent authority based on principles enshrined in legislation. Far from suffocating innovation it will channel innovation towards positive marketing.

Obviously, such a system needs independent and competent monitoring and complaint procedures with the power to wield meaningful sanctions and penalties.

If we truly want to lead the world on this issue and put children’s health before profits then we need to look through the other end of the telescope.

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