Benita Chacko

How can HUL work around its decision on not advertising to kids below 16 years of age?

Ketchups, jams, instant noodles, industry experts tell us how it can advertise without advertising.

Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), the country’s largest advertiser, last week announced that it will stop marketing and advertising its products to children under the age of 16 from next year on both traditional and social media. This is a part of an update to Unilever’s global principles. The brands have been given a deadline of January 2023 for compliance.

Since 2020 Unilever has not been marketing and advertising foods and refreshments to children under the age of 12. It has now updated the policy to below 16 years.

We speak to industry experts to understand what this decision will mean for the brand and how it's communication can reach the kids without directly targeting them.

Krishnarao Buddha
Krishnarao Buddha

Krishnarao Buddha, senior category head, Parle Products

It's a good decision. These food products, which are high in sugar and salt, should not be advertised to young kids. Unlike adults, they can’t make an informed decision.

However, I’m not sure how effective it will be. Look at cigarette smoking. There is an anti-tobacco ad before a film starts in theatres. There is a huge disclaimer on the box. Yet, people continue to smoke and new consumers are getting added to the fold. So it doesn't really matter if you do not advertise to kids.

Firstly, it's not necessary to show kids in the communication to make it relatable to that audience. A child is receptive to a relevant celebrity as well.

Second, you don’t necessarily need to advertise on a kids channel. Because the child is also watching other channels like news, movies, or GECs. So you can reach the TG on any other channel without addressing them directly.

Third, as far as digital is concerned, there are a lot of common devices today. So the child is using the parents’ or the siblings’ devices. The child can equally be exposed to the communication that is being targeted to the adult.

And finally, it's about distribution. So even if these products are removed from the schools, it's not a big deal because the child can buy it from the nearby market. Brands have done it in the past, where they removed the product from the school canteens and asked grocery store owners near schools to stock them up. Even online ordering is common amongst kids now.

Saurabh Uboweja
Saurabh Uboweja

Saurabh Uboweja, Managing Partner, BOD Consulting

There is a fairly large movement around advertising towards kids. McDonald’s has also done this in the past. Earlier its colour scheme was quite attractive for kids. But over time they have made it very premium. It was a part of the exercise to make it less attractive for kids as it had become one of the biggest causes of obesity for kids in America.

It's a very important decision, but sort of delayed. I’m not quite sure if it's gonna have a dramatic reduction in consumption of these foods. But it's symbolic because when a market leader takes such action, the other brands also feel compelled to do it, then it becomes a movement and then there will be an impact. It's a small step in a very long journey. There may not be an impact on consumption patterns in the short term.

The challenge is that Unilever alone can't bring about the big change. It’s a dominant player in the market and their ads are everywhere. The last two to three years it has really been focusing on problems like these and becoming more conscious towards the next generation. So from a timing perspective, they will want to take the lead because they are the market leaders. Once they do it, the others will be compelled to do it as well.

Brands like Unilever need to lead from the front. So instead of advertising such products, they should play a role in educating children about what to eat and how much to eat. That will be positive advertising. It need not be on mainstream television, but they can create content to promote responsible consumption as opposed to materialism.

Gaurang Menon
Gaurang Menon

Gaurang Menon, CCO, BC Web Wise

From what we know, this is mainly going to reflect their creative and communication narrative. It seems like a step in the right direction, however the actual feasibility of its implementation in today’s digital world seems like a wait and watch game. With on demand access to almost every sort of content on digital it would appear that what they set out to achieve might not be easy. And it would be interesting to see whether other companies follow suit or not.

I don’t feel implementing this new strategy would be much of a problem since it’s mainly about the communication narrative. They might not use kids or young influencers on digital anymore but in a market like India, most of their communication is usually targeted to mothers anyway.

It would definitely reflect on their content strategy. I don’t think it would reflect on their sales.

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