FTC Takes Teens Off Marketing-Guide Menu

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Washington —Food marketers and the media that
love their ad budgets can breathe a little easier, as the
Federal Trade Commission has signaled that it was modifying
some of
the guidelines
on market ing
food to kids it
proposed last

In test imony
to Congress
last week, Dav
id Vladeck,
director of the
FTC’s Bureau
of Consumer
said the agency
would recommend
that it not
expand those
guidelines to
market ing of
foods to kids 12
through 17, except
in cases of
in-school marketing.

Vladeck said the commission has also re-examined the
approach to criteria for assessing whether or not marketing
is aimed at kids to make sure it is not overly inclusive
(or not inclusive enough).

He also said the result will be pretty much what food
marketing self-regulations already require under a new,
tougher set of self-regulatory standards offered by the
industry-backed Children’s Food and Beverage Marketing


The FTC had signaled that the guidelines would be revised
in light of the thousands of comments it received, including
complaints from marketers and media that extending
the age to 17-year-olds was definitely not the way to go.

“[W]e cannot ask more of food marketers than they can
reasonably deliver if we expect their continued cooperation
in this effort,” he said.

The FTC has said all along it favored self-regulation and
that recommendations of the interagency working group
were voluntary guidelines subject to adjustment.

The commission had signaled two weeks ago, in a letter
to Capitol Hill and the agencies that made up the working
group, that adjustments were coming.

The principles,
themselves are
only voluntary recommendations
Congress, were
initially released
for tirekicking
by the
industry and
others last April.

At that time,
there was immediate
concern from
food marketer
s and media
that the principles
were overbroad,
restrictive and
swept up healthy foods by casting too wide a net.

Vladeck said that although the original recommendations
“broadly covered all forms of marketing to children
ages 2 to 17 years, FTC staff has determined that, with the
exception of certain in-school marketing activities, it is not
necessary to encompass adolescents ages 12 to 17 within
the scope of covered marketing.”

It is often difficult to distinguish between marketing to
teens and to a general or adult audience, Vladeck noted,
a point industry marketers made in opposing expanding
the age range.

At last week’s hearing, Vladeck faced continued Republican
concerns about the remaining guidelines becoming
regulation by proxy.

He said that, if other working-group members would
go along with it, he would include language in the final
report making clear the suggestions were voluntary ones
and should not be used as the basis of lawsuits against
food marketers, another Republican concern.


Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy, which
has been pushing the government to get tough on food
marketing to kids, was not pleased with the modifications.

“The White House and the FTC have shamelessly caved
into the demands of the junk-food marketing lobby,” he
told Multichannel News. “The administration has decided
to ignore the science and place the interests of the largest
food companies over the health of young people.

“The Obama administration has a moral fi ber nutrition
deficit. Teens are at the epicenter of a powerful digital
marketing system promoting unhealthy food and beverages.
By killing the proposed guidelines designed to protect
teens, the FTC is placing millions at further risk of
life-threatening obesity-related disease.”