Agencies slated in new fat attack

Britain's advertising industry was this week reeling from a barrage of hostile media coverage over its alleged role in fuelling obesity.

The Commons Health Select Committee report, which was published last Thursday, heralded a series of screaming tabloid headlines, many of them focused on the committee's report on the death of a three-year-old girl weighing six stone.

Both The Sun and the Daily Mail led with the story, the Daily Mail citing cases of children "choking on their own fat" and having to be kept alive with the help of oxygen tanks.

The Guardian's front page was dominated by the headline "Revealed: how food firms target children" while the Daily Express followed up on Monday with a story that proclaimed "Uproar as kids are blitzed with messages to buy junk food".

Much of the tabloid coverage was described as "hysterical" by Stephen Woodford, the IPA's president, who added that the issue is extremely "complex".

However, industry leaders fear that Labour now sees the issue as a potential election winner and will make a ban on the advertising of fizzy drinks and fast food during children's TV programmes a manifesto pledge.

At the same time, the media blitz will raise questions about whether the reputation of the IPA Effectiveness Awards, a key tool in boosting the industry's standing with clients, has been damaged.

The Guardian, in particular, drew attention to an awards submission by Leo Burnett. The story explained how the agency's campaign for Kellogg's Real Fruit Winders "entered the world of kids in a way never done before" and managed "not to let mum in on the act". The coverage is likely to put agencies off from entering strategies for children's products in the future.

Meanwhile, the Advertising Association has fired off a protest to the clerk of the Select Committee over its condemnation of the "ineffectiveness" of the Advertising Standards Authority.

It accused the watchdog of approving a television campaign for Wotsits.

Television commercials did not come under the ASA's remit at the time.