The Candy Man Can’t: "Junk Food" Advertising Outlawed on British Television

Well, it’s been a bad day for Willy Wonka. The snack manufacturers in the UK are in a state of sugar shock. Sure, the chocolate factories will remain open; but the popsicle peddlers and potato chip pushers have been dealt with a restraining order, forced to keep a low profile when it comes to accosting their most valued customers. The golden ticket—or any such gimmick designed to promote so-called “junk food” on television—is a thing of the past. Count Chocula will have to go underground in search of fresh blood, and millions of hyperactive and hypoglycemic kiddies might have to learn about candy from strangers, now that cable channels are closed to the trans-fat movers and saltshakers that thus far defined and financed much of children’s television.

The ban on “junk food” advertising is to go into effect in January 2007, the BBC reports. The measures are surprisingly far-reaching, considering that such commercials will no longer be permitted on any “pre-school children’s programs,” “programs on mainstream channels aimed at children” or “cable and satellite children’s channels,” “programs aimed at young people,” including those featuring music videos, and “general entertainment programs” that “appeal to” a “higher than average” number of viewers under the age of sixteen.

The decision, presumably on behalf of an obesity-prone or malnourished public, was made by Ofcom (Office of Communications), a new regulatory body established in 2002 and authorized by Britain’s Office of Communications Act in 2003. Will this catch on elsewhere? Are ice cream, soda pop, and French fries going the way of the cigarette, now that health fascism is on the rise in the west?

What might have happened to American action heroes like Buzz Corry, commander in chief of the Space Patrol, had the FCC clamped down on US radio advertising in the 1930s and ’40s (whose jingles you may hear and see discussed here)? Would Buzz have had to load his tank with corn flakes or oatmeal, like most of the competition? Space Patrol, after all, “was brought to you by Nestle’s Eveready, the instant cocoa, and famous Nestle chocolate bars. Remember N-E-S-T-L-E’-S.” And, as the announcer promised, those listening in could get their own “rocket cockpit” and fly “into space” with Buzz Corry if only they sent in those Nestle labels.

Are we, in this happy meal age of movie tie-ins and product placement, really Buzz Lightyears removed from such sponsorship models? No doubt, there’s lots of dough in cookies, and those protective of commercial television foresee great losses in revenue; losses, they argue, that might very well lower the quality of programming in Britain, as advertisers lose interest in a large group of potential viewers previously seen as a target audience, thus decreasing the purchasing power of advertising-dependent cable channels.

So, who is to gain as kiddies trim down (if indeed such a widespread downsizing of pint-sizers will follow)? The outlawing of “junk food” advertising might prove a boon to those with poor parenting skills, those who rely on legal strictures and thrive on lawsuits to raise a new generation of leaner, healthier consumers, sturdier taxpayers with fewer cavities and lower blood sugar, calm little low-sodium dieters deprived of the catchy tunes that used to cheer our everyday.

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