Advertising Education Forum

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AEF was set up by the World Federation of Advertisers and the European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA).[1] The AEF claims that it is "academically neutral" on its own website. It is in fact a front group for the Advertising and Food industries, which, unsurprisingly, fund it. The World Federation of Advertisers describes itself as an organisation that "champions and defends marketers’ interests on key issues at both a global and EU level".[2] This aim is pursued in relation to children and advertising by the following method: "WFA leads a global coalition of the advertising industry to identify, promote and replicate good practice and champion socially responsible initiatives, which go beyond compliance with industry standards." The AEF is listed as one project which helps to accomplish that aim.[3]

On its own website the AEF makes no mention of the leading role of the WFA. Instead it claims:

The Advertising Education Forum (AEF) is a non-profit, academically neutral organisation that offers a comprehensive database of information on advertising and children and related issues. AEF provides open and free access to academic and scientific research on advertising and children and serves as a centre for information on the issue. AEF also provides information on advertising regulation in Europe.[4]

The AEF in fact operates to undermine independent research on the effects of advertising on children and works in consort with other food and ad industry lobby groups. For example the Food Advertising Unit another front group run by the industry is a member and Mediasmart, another food/ad industry front group was also run from the offices of the Global Consulting Group the former PR agency of the AEF, and both are now clients of APCO Worldwide.

As with many other front groups the AEF has established an 'academic' panel to attempt to give itself legitimacy:

The AEF Academic Network is a global network of experts on the areas of children and advertising, industry self-regulation and childhood obesity. It was established in 2004 to support AEF objective of facilitating an informed debate on the issue of advertising to children. It represents the first structured organisation of its type, on these subjects, in the world. The AAN is a development of the AEF Academic Advisory Board (AAB) that was established in April 2000, and consisted of four members representing different areas of academic and scientific expertise in Europe.[5]

AAB Analysis

The AAB is said by the AEF to have published three analyses of studies relating to advertising and children.

  • AAB Opinion on Gunilla Jarlbro's report on Children and Television Advertising: the players, the arguments and the research, 1994-2000.
  • AAB Opinion on the Sustain study TV Dinners: What's being served up by the advertisers?
  • AAB Opinion on the AEF study of Parental Perceptions of the Influences in Their Children's Lives.[6]

The first study conducted in 2000 was about the influence of advertising on children, surveying 5,000 parents in 15 EU countries. The study highlighted the issue of who finances research influencing research results. The study concluded that children under the age of 12 were unlikely to be able to discern the underlying motives and aims of advertising. [7] The AAB analysis of this study focused on the issue of who had financed the study and stated that the " study’s aim is, therefore, explicitly polemical, and must be seen as a defence of the Swedish ban on television advertising directed to children (up to twelve years)". [8]

Advertising and children

There are serious concerns amongst some investigators about the ethics of directing advertising at children. As Sharon Beder reminds us in her book, This Little Kiddy Went to Market: The Corporate Capture of Childhood, children are used to accepting information at face value, and cannot readily distinguish between information provided to inform and information provided to persuade. Until they reach a certain age they cannot critically evaluate the claims made by advertisers, nor understand the purpose. Some investigators consider that up to the age of 5 children are unable to distinguish between reality and what is presented to them on television. Hence television advertising is received uncritically and without reservation.

Studies commissioned by the US Surgeon General have demonstrated the failure of children under eight to understand persuasive intent. Even if they can differentiate advertisements from television programmes, (and sometimes the boundaries are blurred so that even adults don't recognise some content as advertising), about half of them still don't understand that the advertisements are trying to sell them something.

Multinational corporations have understood the value of advertising and marketing to children for a long time. Corporations began targeting their marketing messages directly to children during the 1980s, as affluent adult markets became saturated with consumer goods. Large firms established 'kids' departments and smaller firms specialised in marketing to children. A number of advertising industry publications were created such as Selling to Kids and Marketing to Kids Report. The academic literature began to feature studies of children as consumers.

In the US the amount corporations spent marketing to children under twelve increased by five times between 1980 and 1990 and ten times more during the 1990s. In 2004 around $15 billion was being spent marketing to children. Conferences on the best ways to market to children are held all over the world. There are also awards for the best advertisements and marketing campaigns with hundreds of entries.

Much marketing to children now consists of sales promotions such as direct coupons, free gifts and samples, contests and sweepstakes, and public relations exercises such as using celebrities and licensed characters to visit shopping centres and schools. These additional forms of marketing have supplemented rather than replaced advertising as the importance of the children's market has grown. Their aim however is the same as advertising.

The international children's market is increasingly attractive to transnational corporations who seek to make their brands and products popular in different cultural milieus. The food industry was a pioneer in these efforts. In 1997 Brandweek magazine noted that McDonald's was the favourite fast food all over the world and Coca-Cola the favourite drink. [9]

AEF and Obesity

A report published by AEF in 2003 concluded "After a careful and thorough examination of the published literature on the role ofadvertising in obesity, we can conclude that there is no evidence for a direct causal relationship between food advertising and obesity levels. Some research has been conducted demonstrating that extended exposure to television may increase the chances of obesity. There is, however, no research that demonstrates a link between exposure to advertising for certain types of foods, and an increase in consumption of those foods amongst adults and children." [10]

These conclusions are different to those expressed within the "review of the evidence report" prepared for the World Health Organisation in 2006. Amongst other conclusions they stated "The review confirms that the marketing of food to children is part of the obesity problem; however it is not the whole problem." [11]


As disclosed on the AEF website.


Association of Advertisers in Ireland | British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA) | Coca-Cola Europe | European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA) | Ferrero Group | Food Advertising Unit (FAU) | Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) | Hasbro Europe | Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) | J Walter Thompson Europe | Kraft Foods | McCann Erickson | Masterfoods | Mattel Europe | McDonald's Europe | Nestlé | Ogilvy & Mather | Toy Industries of Europe (TIE) | Turner Broadcasting | World Federation of Advertisers (WFA)[12]


Association of Advertisers in Ireland | Coca-Cola Europe | European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA) | Ferrero Group | Food Advertising Unit (FAU) | Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) | Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) | Kraft Foods | Masterfoods | Mattel Europe | McDonald's Europe | Nestlé | Ogilvy & Mather | World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) [13]


World Federation of Advertisers | TIE | ISBA | Coca Cola Europe | Advertising Association | Ferrero | Ogilvy | McDonalds Europe | AAI | Nestle[14]

PR/Lobbying Firms

Former lobbying firms


Website and contact

  • Langham House,

1b Portland Place London W1B 1PN United Kingdom


The AEF is a private company limited by guarantee.

Company number 03807549

It was incorporated on 15/07/1999. [16]

AEF Academic Network

^ indicates the original four AAB members[17]

Academic Network newsletter

The AEF website list the Academic Network Newsletters. The latest edition listed is from October 2005 and is the third of three. [18]


  1. EACA EACA Ethical Guidelines 2002. Retrieved from the Internet Archive of 1 August 2006 on 16 January 2016.
  2. WFA Advocacy Issues, accessed January 3 2009.
  3. WFA Advocacy Issues, accessed January 3 2009.
  4. Advertising Education Forum homepage, accessed 1 August 2007.
  5. Advertising Education Forum AEF Academic Network (AAN), accessed 1 August 2007.
  6. Advertising Education Forum AEF Academic Network (AAN), accessed 1 August 2007.
  7. Children and Television Advertising: the players, the arguments and the research, 1994-2000, accessed February 23 2009.
  8. AEF AAB Opinion, accessed February 23 2009.
  9. This Little Kiddy Went to Market: The Corporate Capture of Childhood, Sharon Beder, Pluto Press, London, 2009. accessed 8 march 2010.
  11. WHO Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data The extent, nature and effects of food promotion to children [electronic resource] : a review of the evidence : technical paper /prepared for the World Health Organization ; Gerard Hastings ... [et al.].accessed 23 February 2010
  12. AEF What is AEF. Retrieved from the Internet Archive of 16 August 2004 on 21 January 2016.
  13. AEF What is AEF. Retrieved from the Internet Archive of 22 September 2008.
  14. AEF About Us. Retrieved from the Internet Archive of 20 August 2015.
  15. Register Entry for 1 September 2008 to 30 November 2008 APPC, accessed 28 January 2015
  16. Companies House Advertising Education Forum Limited,accessed January 12 2009.
  17. Advertising Education Forum AEF Academic Network (AAN), accessed 1 August 2007.
  18. Advertising Education Forum Newsletter,No. 3. Retrieved from the Internet Archive 11 February 2006. Accessed 22 March 2016.