Recently, Unilever announced that its food and drink brands will stop marketing and advertising to children under the age of 16. The company has issued a deadline of January 2023 for all its brands to comply with the updated principles. With this step, the company wants to spread the narrative of responsible marketing.
Brand experts that BestMediaInfo.com spoke to, believe that this step by Unilever has not just set the path for other FMCG brands to follow, but also presents the company in good light and will help parents retain the decision-making power to purchase products.
Nisha Sampath, Managing Partner at Bright Angles Consulting LLP, said that Unilever, being one of the largest FMCG companies in the world, can influence other companies to join in.
Shradha Agarwal, CEO and Co-founder, Grapes, told BestMediaInfo.com that this is not the first time that a brand has pledged to cut direct advertising to children. Brands like Kellogg India, Nestle India, Pepsico India and many others took the ‘India Pledge’- an initiative not to market their products to kids under 12, but then soon the trend diminished. “It will be interesting to see how other major FMCG brands respond in the coming months,” she said.
Even the Indian government is devising rules for Indian food brands targeting kids. Amid concerns over rising childhood obesity, the Consumer Affairs Ministry is considering a proposal to curb advertisements of junk foods targeted at children under the new guidelines on 'misleading ads', which are to be released soon.
Since the company delves into FMCG and has some impulse products, including Kwality Walls, Ben&Jerry’s, Magnum, and Knorr, that are largely targeted toward children and teenagers, will this decision have an impact on the business of the company?
Nisha Singhania, Co-Founder and Director at Infectious Advertising, said, “There is always a debate about what is healthy vs what actually has been shown. Moms might know what is best for their children and hence they are the decision-makers for this target audience. The purchaser is always going to be a parent. Often parents have to give up when their children are stubborn about something they have seen in an ad. So, I think this is a good step, to give back the power to the purchaser.”
“With this step, Unilever is staying ahead of the upcoming trend or maybe trying to set a trend of responsible marketing. They are becoming more transparent about their products, their authenticity and their values,” she added.
Keeping the right checks and balances for targeting ads to children, social media platforms have also set rules for brands to follow. In 2021, Meta announced that targeting options including detailed targeting, Custom Audiences, Lookalike Audiences and saved audiences that include any of these options, will no longer be available to target ads to people under 18 globally, 20 in Thailand or 21 in Indonesia. While for Google, as per the shared guidelines, ads are prohibited for children under the age of 13, video-sharing platform YouTube also turned off comments for videos that are made for children.
How can one reach out to kids and their parents then? Samit Sinha, Founder and Managing Partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, said, “Any FMCG company has these big distribution channels that are a huge way to reach the target audience. For FnB, the distribution network is a key element to run their businesses. There can be a lot of organic reaches generated through social media without involving children which will not require much penetration.”
“Brands should focus on peer-to-peer marketing thereby creating communities of parents engaging the decision-makers. That is a vital way of reaching children,” he added.
Unilever’s key principles for responsible marketing to kids
In 2020, Unilever announced that it will stop marketing and advertising foods and refreshments to children under the age of 12 in traditional media, and under the age of 13 via social media channels. With this latest move, Unilever has set the bar up. One will have to wait and watch how it is going to play out for the company.