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Advertising Age reports that the Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) – an internal organization within the advertising industry – plans to enhance its oversight and enforcement role, in part as a response to calls for a greater federal government role in regulating advertising to children.

“As the concerns change, we begin to apply [the guidelines] differently,” CARU director Elizabeth Lascoutx tells Ad Age. “One of our guidelines was that representation of food products should be made so as to encourage sound use of a product toward healthy development of children and development of good nutritional practices.”

At the same time, CARU criticized Wrigley and Burger King for misleading and irresponsible advertising to children, a move interpreted as signaling a new toughness.

Manly Molpus, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), issued the following statement: “With regard to advertising, the food and advertising industries have a 30-year record of successfully working with the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) to monitor ads to children to ensure they meet strict guidelines. Individual companies also have internal policies and programs that ensure that communications to children are done responsibly. All of these industry efforts are under continual review to ensure they meet the highest possible standards.”

While it appears that marketers are circling the wagons to prevent government interference, the Bush administration has shown no inclination to expand the government’s regulatory role. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) chairwoman Deborah Majoras told a conference sponsored by the Consumer Federation of America that the US government will neither ban nor limit the advertising of junk food to children. Majoras said that the government will expect the food industry to develop its own guidelines for when such advertising is appropriate, and will sponsor a workshop this summer to help marketers create these self-imposed limits.

That may not be good enough for some, however.

A bi-partisan group of senators – including Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania), Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut), and Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) – plans to reintroduce legislation that would increase funding for research into the impact of media and advertising on children’s on food choices. This legislation is seen as a possible first step toward formalized government intervention.

And, the federal government's policy seems contrary to the positions being taken by some state legislatures, which have been considering various forms of intervention, such as snack taxes and the banning of junk food from schools.
KC's View:
We know that a lot of MNB users feel that the federal government ought to butt out. And we certainly respect that.

The better question is how consumers feel.

Over on the website, Phil Lempert wrote yesterday that “we believe that the states have it right, and that the federal government is abdicating what should be its responsibility in this matter. Why establish guidelines for kids, and then allow companies to irresponsibly market products to children that don’t meet these guidelines?

“Consumers should demand no less of a government that we fund with our tax dollars.”

And, did a poll, asking consumers what they think – and as of this writing, only 25 percent of respondents said they thought the government should stay out of the regulation business in this case. Fifty percent thought that the federal government should allow only the marketing of foods that meet certain nutritional guidelines to kids, and 25 percent thought that all marketing to kids ought to be banned.

We know why industry folks feel the way they do. But maybe we ought to be thinking harder about how consumers feel and what they think. Because in the long run, that probably is more important.