Our Civil Society Alliance in Vietnam, led by Alive & Thrive, and thanks to FHI Solutions’ Innovation Incubator, have teamed up with artificial intelligence (AI) company Hekate. Their aim? To try and end exploitative marketing of commercial milk formula and related products within the scope of the BMS code, on the digital frontline. Hekate, a company keen to bring AI technology to social impact projects, has worked closely with civil society partners to create an exciting new tool that uses AI to identify BMS code violations in the digital sphere.
In recent years we have seen companies that manufacture and distribute commercial milk formula and other products under the scope of the Code move away from a traditional marketing plan. The recently launched WHO report zooms in on BMS marketing on digital platforms, and finds that over 80% of exposure to BMS advertisements occurs online in some countries. Some of them do not overtly appear as advertisements, including baby clubs, advice for parents, and online registrations, with the aim to obtain personal information for marketing purposes. Apart from increasing BMS sales, practices as such make Code monitoring extremely challenging.
In Vietnam, the government put in place Decree 70 in 2021, stating that online platforms had to report annually on their advertisement violations and remove said violations within 24 hours when requested to do so.
To keep up with these changing times, SUN CSA Vietnam took the opportunity to meet the challenges of the digital world with an equally technology-driven tool. Vivid (Virtual Violations Detector), is a digital assistant that scans websites, social media channels and shopping platforms to identify adverts which violate the BMS code. Using key text and image recognition, the platform can identify posts which may be violations and match those to specific provisions of the Code.
The platform gathers all of the potential violations with its auto detect function, these violations are then confirmed by a human advisor who can gather the information and share with the ministry ready for prosecution.
In its first year alone Vivid identified 4,032 violations and SUN CSA Vietnam now has data concerning the violations of over 20 BMS brands that sell products in Vietnam. For example, they found Japanese brands (GuunUp MBP, Morinaga, Meiji, Wakodo, Glico) have nearly 40% of their posts violating the Code. Nestle, Friesland Campina, Mead Johnson are also among violators with 15% to 30% of their posts violating the Code. Australian brands like Blackmore, Royal Ausnz, Bellamy’s Organic are also quite aggressive with nearly 20% of their posts violating the Code although they entered the market later than other brands.
Duong Vu, part of the CSA Vietnam states “we want to share this product further within the SUN CSN and think it could be food for thought for other countries.”
At only one year old, Vivid is still learning, and through repeated use will become even more efficient and effective in spotting BMS code violators. The software has been so well received that the Ministry of Information and Communications in Vietnam now wants to expand it to include tobacco marketing, something that the CSA Vietnam will be collaborating on. There are also hopes to expand further in the future to include alcohol and unhealthy food products. Currently, it has been replicated and modified to conduct Code monitoring at the global level. As more and more marketing moves into the digital world, innovations such as Vivid will level the playing field to help end exploitative marketing practices and protect a healthy and nutritious way of life.