Wednesday, August 15, 2007

ASA will not investigate SMA promotion in OK! Magazine

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has replied to Baby Milk Action regarding our complaint over the Wyeth/SMA formula promotion in OK! Magazine with a feature on Katie Price/Jordan. For a reminder of what the fuss was about see:

The ASA, an industry self-regulatory body, states:

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Unfortunately the ASA is unable to take action because we cannot investigate issues relating to editorial material. Nor de we regulate the placement of advertisements in magazines; that is the editor's decision. The ASA can only consider the content of advertisements.

However, because the issue relates to 'product placement' and the legality of promoting formula milk, as suitable for children less than 6 months old, we have passed the complaints, including yours, to Buckinghamshire County Council Trading Standards. You should hear from them in due course.
---extract ends

I had already written to Buckinghamshire Trading Standards and hope they will investigate the background to the product-placement picture and the SMA follow-on formula advertisment being placed on the next page.

The ASA suggests contacting the Press Complaints Commission as well, so I have forwarded the letter I sent to the ASa, which you can download by clicking here. The website is:

According to a report in Brand Republic the ASA received 101 complaints. See:

The ASA says of the follow-on milk advertisement:

---Extract begins

We have considered the SMA follow-on milk advertisement on page 54 but there are no grounds for us to investigate. It states "IMPORTANT NOTICE SMA PROGRESS is a follow-on milk for babies over 6 months and is not intended to replace breast feeding".

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The ASA is failing in its duty we believe. There is a requirement under the industry voluntary code that advertisements be 'legal, decent, honest and truthful'.

The advertisement is of dubious legality as infant formula advertising is illegal and this advertisement promotes the brand name and logo used for infant formula and directs people to a website where infant formula is advertised. The website is, therefore, an extension of the advertisement, but the ASA refuses to consider the content of websites, arguing again that their content is 'editorial'. The advertisement 'carrot in your hair' line also links to the SMA infant formula shot where Jordan talks of her daughter having ginger hair. We view it as a de facto infant formula advertisement. As 60% of mothers in an NCT/UNICEF survey said they had seen infant formula advertisements when these are illegal, they are clearly functioning in that way.

That only deals with the 'legal' part of the advertising code. We believe that in following a narrow interpretation of legality only, the ASA is failing to apply the other tests.

An advertisement that was 'decent, honest and truthful' would surely comply with the provisions of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes adopted by the World Health Assembly, the world's highest health policy setting body made up of the health ministries of member states. Article 11.3 is clear:

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11.3 Independently of any other measures taken for implementation of this Code, manufacturers and distributors of products within the scope of this Code should regard themselves as responsible for monitoring their marketing practices according to the principles and aim of this Code, and for taking steps to ensure that their conduct at every level conforms to them.
---quote ends

The Code prohibits the advertising of all breastmilk substitutes, which includes follow-on milks. Wouldn't 'decent, honest and truthful' advertising have to comply? Meaning no advertising of follow-on milks. Not according to the ASA.

We have argued these points with the ASA until we are both exasperated, to no avail.

The ASA's final word is basically that we have to get the law changed. You can help us to do so by visiting this page:

With the Code and subsequent, relevant Resolutions not yet implemented in UK legislation and the lack of rigour of the ASA companies get away with systematic violations of the provisions.

Remember, this is not about denying mothers information, quite the opposite. It is about stopping misleading propaganda, ensuring labels provide the information mothers need and providing independent, accurate information through health workers. As my recent analysis of company promotion shows, they cannot be trusted. See:

The role of regulations in protecting all mothers is often lost by the media, sometimes deliberately, it seems.

Although we are talking about regulating companies, the publication Nursing in Practice, opens its story about the promotion in OK! Magazine by stating: "A row has broken out over mothers using formula milk instead of naturally breast feeding their babies."

That just seems designed to stir up a breastfeeding v. bottle feeding argument, inevitably diverting attention from the real issues.

Why do some journalists take that line when they could be supporting our work to protect all mothers and babies, for example, by exposing how companies such as Hipp are endangering infant health by contradicting expert advice on how to mix up formula? See:

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