OPINION: PERSPECTIVE - The Co-op’s ban on TV ’junk’ food ads is stuff and nonsense

When was the last time you saw a TV commercial for Co-op supermarkets? Can’t remember? Me neither.

When was the last time you saw a TV commercial for Co-op

supermarkets? Can’t remember? Me neither.

Nor am I breathless with anticipation about the next burst of

advertising, which promises to be as dismal as the Co-op shopping

experience. No glitz.

Just worthy messages telling kids to eat their greens.

In an outburst of self-righteousness, the Co-op has pledged to man the

barricades against the invasion of children’s TV programming by

unscrupulous advertisers pushing ’unhealthy’ food and drink to an

audience of innocents.

Given the Co-operative movement’s long-standing commitment to social

justice, we have to assume that the retailer is sincere about what it’s

doing. Others, though, may see this as an act of sanctimonious humbug

that takes the biscuit - one that’s low in fat, sugar or salt, that


The Co-op’s pledge to use its TV advertising to promote healthy diets

might seem less of an empty gesture if it was a significant TV

advertiser and were it not for the fact that supermarkets rarely use TV

to promote individual products - except as part of a special offer - but

rather to show what jolly nice places they are.

Nor has the Co-op proved itself very astute with its PR. Taking an

ethical stand is one thing. Publicly implying that some of your

suppliers are helping to produce a generation of fatties is another.

Of course it’s easy to be taken in by the Co-op’s rallying cry. Nobody

in their right mind would like to see children doomed to serious illness

and early death by junk food. But banning ads for sweets and highly

sugared soft drinks will do nothing to resolve a problem with much

deeper roots.

Unhealthy eating has much more to do with the pace of modern life and

the death of family mealtimes than it has with commercial advertising,

which can never be a tool for social engineering. The fact is that

children like sweets because they taste nice and hate vegetables because

they don’t - and the most creative advertising in the world won’t change

their minds.

What’s more, the Co-op is taking action on the back of some dubious


Asking parents if they want to see a ban on advertising that

’blackmails’ them into buying is like asking the Pope if he is against

sin. You know what the answer will be.

And the 51 per cent of children who claim not to take ’no’ for an answer

when pestering for products they see advertised have either succumbed to

braggadocio or are offering a damning indictment of their spineless

parents who need more help than a mere ad ban can give.

If the Co-op is really as committed as it claims, then it must take the

commercial risk of removing the offending products from its shelves.

Failure to do so will lay it open to charges that it is using cynical

and cheap publicity to aid a struggling brand.

And the Co-op is much too principled to do a thing like that, isn’t