Unilever will stop marketing food and beverages to children under the age of 16, across both traditional media and social media. In most countries, the food and beverage industry restricts marketing to kids under 13 years old, however, Unilever decided to raise the bar.
Under its new principles, Unilever said it would also not be collecting or storing data on children under 16. It also would not be using influencers, celebrities, or social media stars who are younger than 16 or primarily appeal to children.
The policy change shows how Unilever is taking an increasingly cautious approach to digital and social media. Efforts to limit marketing to young audiences come amid health concerns, such as childhood obesity.
“When food companies target kids, it undermines parents’ efforts to teach their children good eating habits and encourages poor nutrition, which can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases,” Healthy Food America warns.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says high fat, sugar, and salt foods (HFSS) marketing in traditional media has detrimental effects on children’s eating, and early studies suggest that HFSS food marketing in digital media has similar effects.
According to WHO, existing regulations are insufficient to address the challenges in this field.
Unilever said that with self-imposed regulations, it is recognizing the power that social media and influencer marketing can have on children’s choices.
“By making these changes, our goal is to continue to reduce children’s exposure to advertising from the food and beverage industry, and instead support parents to select appropriate treats, to be enjoyed from time to time,” Matt Close, president Unilever's ice cream division, said in a statement.
The deadline for Unilever's brands to comply with its new principles is January 2023.
This is the first major move Unilever has made with regard to advertising to children in two years. In 2020, it banned the promotion of food and drinks to kids under 12 in traditional media, and to those under 13 in social media.
The new initiative also comes shortly after a major investor criticized Unilever for focusing on sustainability at the expense of business results.
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