MPs warn industry over food campaigns for kids

The PR industry has been warned that it faces government action if it does not take steps to regulate the burgeoning online promotion of junk food to under-16s.

MPs on the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee spoke amid mounting evidence of PROs ­targeting children via digital campaigns.

Ofcom’s recent legislation restricting TV advertising of products such as chewing gum and fast food to children has led to more and more PROs spearheading such campaigns, with tactics including producing viral clips and signing children up as brand ‘buddies’ on Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger.

But neither the CIPR nor the PRCA has specific guidelines for targeting under-16s. Other marcoms industry codes focus almost entirely on paid-for online promotions. Select committee chairman John Whittingdale urged the industry to draw up guidelines on best practice.

Committee member Adrian Sanders warned: ‘If self-regulation cannot work, then government will have to intervene and the whole industry will pay a very heavy price.’

PRCA MD Patrick Barrow admitted the industry has been ‘caught on the hop’ on the issue and pledged to look into it.

But CIPR assistant director general Francis Ingham warned against ‘unnecessarily complicated regulation’.

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