- A European Commission probe into advertising in schools is alarming industry lobbyists who fear the results will be used as an excuse for a further clampdown on marketing to children.
Schools in Britain, France, Spain, Belgium and Scandinavia are taking part in the survey which will include poster sites, sponsored materials, vending machines, audio-visual aids, sponsored company visits, recommended books and all other means of introducing products into classrooms.
EC consumer affairs executives see the survey as the first step in the establishment of a Europe-wide code of practice to regulate sponsorship in schools.
But industry leaders believe it will merely provide extra ammunition for special interest groups pressing for tougher restrictions on ad messages directed at children.
Lionel Stanbrook, the Advertising Association's deputy director general, said: "There's a feeling that the EC is trying to pull the wool over people's eyes. If you're going to legislate against advertising to children, a survey of marketing to schools is a good place to start."
The ZAW, the AA's equivalent body in Germany, has already told a market research company, one of a number sub-contracted by the EC to carry out the research, that it will not co-operate until it knows what the Commission's true agenda is.
In Britain, the industry has taken steps to distance itself from the activities of Imagination for School Media Marketing, the company which has been attempting to introduce billboards into secondary schools. But Stanbrook said: "We see nothing wrong with school materials being sponsored."
Industry lobbyists are disturbed by what they believe is a hand-in-glove relationship between EC policy makers and groups such as Consumers International, whose 1996 report on food advertising to children -- called A Spoonful of Sugar -- was condemned as "long on assumption and short on credibility".