Today, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) announced tough new rules banning the advertising to children of high fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) food or drink products across all non-broadcast media including in print, cinema and, crucially, online and in social media. The rules, which will apply to media targeted at under-16s and be regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), will come into effect on 1 July 2017.
Following a consultation process, CAP announced in a regulatory statement that it will introduce a new placement restriction and make amendments to existing rules on the creative content of advertising which will:
- Prohibit HFSS advertising from appearing in children’s media (children defined as being under 16);
- Prohibit HFSS advertising in other media where children make up a significant proportion of the audience;
- Prohibit brand advertising (including, branding such as company logos or characters) that has the effect of promoting specific HFSS products, even if they are not featured directly;
- Apply to all media, including advertising in online platforms like social networks and techniques such as advergames;
- Use the Department of Health (DH) nutrient profiling model to differentiate between HFSS and non-HFSS products; and
- Allow advertisements for non-HFSS products to use promotions and licensed characters and celebrities popular with children to better promote healthier options.
These new restrictions will bring non-broadcast rules in line with current broadcasting rules. CAP highlighted that the new rules were a response to detailed research into the way that children consume media, which highlighted a clear need for stronger rules in non-broadcast media. They were quick to emphasise that “even a very small positive impact from new restrictions could equate to a reduction in the potential for harm to children and, in turn, the wider detriment associated with childhood obesity as a risk factor in adult ill-health.” Coincidentally, these new rules follow the World Health Organisation’s recent call for immediate government action to protect children from targeted junk food adverts in apps, social media and video blogs and the uproar caused by the government’s omission of advertising in their childhood obesity strategy announced in August.
Critics say the new rules do not go far enough and may not have any impact. The restrictions were specifically criticised for only applying when a quarter of the audience are children. Further criticism focused on the fact that the rules will not apply to packaging. Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, claimed that there were still too many loopholes: “Just as many of the TV programmes most watched by children aren’t covered by the rules, so it looks like many of the most popular social media sites won’t be either; neither will billboards near schools, or product packaging itself.”
Perhaps the most significant of the restrictions outlined above is the limit on the use of licensed characters and celebrities banned in ads promoting junk food, even if they are not featured directly. Well-known characters such as McDonald’s Ronald McDonald, Kellogg’s Frosties mascot Tony Tiger and Nestles Coco Pops mascot Coco the Monkey will be banned from use in the promotion of junk food but will be allowed to be used to promote healthier options, which could push food companies to drastically cut sugar, fat and salt in their products.
Agencies have until 1 July 2017 to ensure that their creative content and media planning strategies take these new rules into account, and there will be an additional three-month transitional period for advertisers who can demonstrate to the ASA that the media space in question was booked prior to CAP’s announcement.