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Unilever takes on Australian watchdog over ad ban

By Ankush Chibber , 23-Jan-2012

A Bubble Gum Berry Lava Paddle Pop
A Bubble Gum Berry Lava Paddle Pop

Unilever has called out the Advertising Standards Board of Australia over its recent order to remove a TV advertisement for the company’s popular milk-based frozen dairy snack.

Unilever has taken exception to the order and said it took its compliance obligations and social responsibilities very seriously, including how to market products that may be particularly attractive to children.

A baseless order, says company

A spokesperson for Unilever told FoodNavigator-Asia that both the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) and an independent arbiter of nutritional standards have confirmed that the Paddle Pop range of products satisfy all nutritional guidelines for advertising as a “healthy dietary choice” under the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (RCMI).

“We are therefore disappointed in the determination by the ASB in relation to the recent Paddle Pop TV advertisement. Note that this appears to be the first ASB determination that has found a breach of the RCMI despite the advertised product satisfying all nutritional and dietary standards and requirements,” she said.

According to the spokesperson, Unilever’s own internal peer-reviewed nutritional guidelines are consistent with established scientific and government criteria as well as the school canteen criteria around Australia.

“We maintain our view that we comply with the RCMI Core Principals and for this reason we have felt it necessary to address the concerns raised by the ASB in the appropriate forum of a formal appeal,” she said.

The ad board had come down hard upon Unilever with an order to remove an advertisement for Bubble Gum Berry Lava Paddle Pop and the Hero or Villain Choc Orange Paddle Pop as they do not meet the ‘advertising messaging’ requirement of (RCMI).

The RCMI involves the country’s majority leading food manufacturers who have committed not to advertise HFSS foods to children under 12 unless they promote healthy dietary choices and a healthy lifestyle.

Under its report on the advertisement, the board said it was in breach of the RCMI code, in particular: “…the advertising and/or marketing communication activities reference, or are in the context of, a healthy lifestyle, designed to appeal to the intended audience through messaging that encourages: Good dietary habits, consistent with established scientific or government criteria, and physical activity.”

A case of misinterpretation, says food body

In its report, the RCMI board pointed out that, “the advertisement does not feature any characters participating in physical activity and that there are no verbal or visual references to taking part in physical activity.”

However, the company has disputed the interpretation of code in this particular case by the board and said that it has no obligation to include characters engaging in physical activity.

Kate Carnell, chief executive for the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) came out in the support of that stand - pointing out that the issue with the Paddle Pop advertisement is a difference over the interpretation of the code.

“With this in mind, AFGC is holding seminars with the input of the board at the end of February to ensure manufacturers and advertising agencies understand the code and how the board interprets it,” she said.

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