An initiative sponsored by the Association pour la santé publique du Québec

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Advertising to Children

Owing to their inability to discern the commercial intentions of marketing, children are easily manipulated and vulnerable in the face of advertising directed at them. Because of this, children’s advertising has been the focus of numerous works that have demonstrated its serious potential consequences, including its negative impact on the quality of children’s nutrition.

Within the framework of its Stratégie mondiale pour lutter contre les maladies chroniques, the World Health Organization has urged nations to pass legislation regulating the marketing of food and beverages to children. In addition to recommending a ban on advertising in places frequented by children, such as schools, parks, daycare centres, medical clinics, and sports facilities, the WHO has suggested that its member states pay special attention to all forms of marketing aimed at creating a bond between children and brands.

Examples of food marketing strategies that can be used to reach children:

  • traditional advertising (TV, radio, posters)
  • use of celebrities, mascots or characters
  • sponsorship of athletes or events
  • product placement
  • promotions
  • websites
  • packaging
  • in-store displays
  • emails or text messages
  • viral marketing and social networks
  • philanthropy

Quebec law to protect children against advertising

Recognizing the need to protect children from the risks of marketing, Quebec chose to prohibit commercial advertising directed at children under the age of 13 years. Incorporated in the Quebec Consumer Protection Act (CPA), sections 248 and 249 have been in force since 1980.

In 2012, the Quebec Office de la protection du consommateur (Consumer Protection Bureau) updated the application guide for this law in order to reflect changes in business and media practices and the habits of today’s young people.

Law not always respected

Since 2006, the Weight Coalition has taken on the task of ensuring the rigorous application of the law by lodging complaints against advertising that seems directed directly at children in breach of the law. These have resulted in a number of guilty pleas over the years.

This whistle-blowing process has allowed documenting both the presence of marketing to children in Quebec despite the existing ban and the reach and limits of the CPA’s application. Numerous lessons thus learned were taken into consideration when updating the application guide for sections 248 and 249 of the CPA in 2012.