In its Food Fables report, Which? claims food companies are still not doing enough to curb their marketing of unhealthy food to children, using social networking sites, text messaging competitions and viral promotions to appeal to children.
The report said stricter TV advertising regulations, which prohibit pre-watershed junk food ads on TV to under-16s, "are failing to stop children being exposed to less healthy food advertising".
Which? claims that although there are "notable improvements" from the likes of Weetabix and Kentucky Fried Chicken, many "major food companies are taking advantage of lax regulations and are still using irresponsible approaches to negatively influence children's food choices".
Which? said some brands were still heavily promoting less healthy products to children. Examples include Kellogg's encouraging people to text to receive a free ringtone as part of a competition on high sugar cereals. Coca-Cola also introduced a Fanta branded mobile phone game. Cadbury websites included links to child-focused games and competitions, while Mars and Pepsico link promotions with popular social networking sites.
Which? said the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice code "needs to go further", while non-broadcast promotions, such as press and billboard ads, online advertising and promotional offers, fall under the control of the Advertising Standards Authority and Committee of Advertising Practice code, which "doesn't even recognise that there are foods high in fat, sugar and salt, only differentiating fresh fruit and vegetables."
Responding to the report, ISBA public affairs director Ian Twinn said: "This report is seriously misleading. It accuses advertisers of irresponsible behaviour online, despite the fact that online ads are subject to the same degree of regulation, through the advertising codes, as broadcast and print ads.
"The report goes on to say that advertisers are increasingly targeting teenagers online, but Which? has wrongly highlighted practices that are not aimed at young teens but instead at the over-16s. Any under-16s seeing these ads will have had to lie about their age."
This article was first published on Media Week