Advertising targeted at children and minors has become the focus of legislators and watchdogs throughout the world. In the United States, the Mobile Marketing Association (“MMA”) released stricter industry guidelines directed to wireless carriers, aggregators and content providers, to increase protection of children in marketing practices. In the U.K., Ofcom (the regulatory authority) has required an end to “junk-food” advertising to children under 16. The Greek Ministry for Education has established a mobile phone ban for teachers and pupils at school that also regulates how students may carry cell phones onto school premises. The issue has become a topic of intense debate in Italy and on Nov. 15, 2006, the local Communications Regulatory Authority (“Agcom”) required communication providers
offering audiovisual and multimedia services available through mobile devices, to include technical means to prevent minors from accessing harmful content. Services with adult-oriented content must provide a control mode—allowing parents to block access. Providers should provide notice about these controls and users must confirm, in writing, receipt of the notices. A few days later, the same Agcom issued additional rulings to protect minors in the context of entertainment programming, requiring television and radio broadcasters to ensure that content directed at—or likely to attract—children complies with requirements as to language and behavior, and avoids unjustified violence, vulgarity, bad language and sexual innuendo.
Almost at the same time, the National Journalists’ Association released a new version of its rules (the so-called Carta di Treviso) with a specific section (no. 7) dedicated to protection of minors. The rules require that, with few exceptions, journalists refrain from publishing personal or identifiable data of minors; these rules have been approved by the local Privacy Commissioner as an ethical self-regulatory code. This updated version of the ethical rules now applies to on-line, multimedia and any kind of journalistic communication—even bloggers will have to take into account the Carta’s prescriptions.
Food advertising to children is being targeted by the authorities in Italy. For example, a company producing a lollipop popular among young consumers, ran into trouble in a recent television advertising campaign. The commercial depicted three young girls in a bedroom sucking lollipops. The narrative comments “New XX lollipop with fruit cream, really excellent!” One of the girls picks up her skates and says, “Well now we’ll have to do some exercise.” The other girls reply “Exercise? Why? XX contains 0% fat! Didn’t you know?” The commercial closes with the statement “XX: new ultra-juicy flavours and zero percent fat.”
The complaint filed with the Italian Authority for Market and Fair Competition argued the advertisement was targeted at children and the lollipop was presented as a food product that didn’t increase weight because it didn’t contain fat—thus exercise wasn’t needed, suggesting a “dietetic” effect for children and specifically young girls concerned about their weight. In its defense, the company argued the lollipop did not, in fact, contain any fat, and might actually be considered a dietetic product.
The Authority held that the ads were likely to reach an audience of children, considering the time the commercials were aired; and that stating there was no fat in the lollipop was irrelevant because it contained sugar, and the ads suggested exercise was unnecessary. Consequently, the commercial resulted in a misleading message and a fine was imposed.
In Italy, as elsewhere, the promotional message, as well as the presentation, in advertising directed to children requires a high level of attention—even more so with regard to food products, given the particular attention the obesity problem has raised among regulators.