Advertising and Promotions

Policy Position

FDF members are committed to marketing their products in a responsible way. The UK food and drink industry has long shown this commitment through adherence to stringent advertising codes of practice that exist at global, regional and national levels (please see below – Current Advertising Regulation).

Governments have recently called for advertising restrictions to be extended and for restrictions to promotion of certain food and drinks to be introduced, as part of the respective childhood obesity prevention plans in England, Scotland and Wales (please see below – Next Steps for Advertising and Promotion Restrictions).

FDF does not support the proposed bans. We believe they will have no significant impact on childhood obesity levels. For example, the proposed extension to advertising restrictions which call for a restriction on advertising before 9pm on both TV and the internet is predicted to make a 2-calorie difference to children’s intakes. However, they will have a significant impact on food companies by restricting their ability to compete, to effectively reach their adult markets and by introducing complicated and bureaucratic rules. The likely result is fewer products on the market and higher food prices.

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Background

Advertising

The Government is consulting on a potential 9pm watershed for TV and internet advertising of HFSS products. FDF does not agree with these additional restrictions as there are there are already strictly enforced rules in the UK which prohibit advertising of HFSS products to children on TV and in non-broadcast media. There are also additional content rules for HFSS adverts which ban the use of celebrities and licensed characters of appeal to children.

We do not believe these proposals will affect childhood obesity. It is estimated that a 9pm watershed on TV and internet HFSS advertising will only result in a 2-calorie daily deficit in children’s diets. The proposals also limit the scope for advertising reformulated or small portioned products, which will inhibit the ability of businesses to bring these products to market successfully, risking the success of the PHE reformulation programmes.

Promotions

FDF believe promotions should be acknowledged for the varied and significant benefits they offer to consumers, retailers and manufacturers. We do not believe bans to promotion of food and drinks should be introduced for the following reasons:

  • The benefits to consumers of promotions are significant; they reduce the cost of food and enable new innovations and brands to be brought to the market.
  • Promoting foods to adults is a fundamental commercial freedom - it is adults whom promotions are aimed at, not children.
  • There is a very limited evidence base to suggest that banning promotions would help to reduce childhood obesity.
  • This would limit the scope for promoting reformulated or small portioned products and risk the success of the PHE reformulation programmes.
  • Government policies should not put further pressure on rising food costs and household budgets.

Governments Proposals for Further Restrictions

England

In June 2018, the Government published Childhood obesity: a plan for action - Chapter 2. This sets a ‘national ambition to halve childhood obesity and significantly reduce the gap between children from the most and least deprived areas by 2030’. The plan announced Government’s intention to introduce further rules for marketing of food and drinks, including:

  • a consultation on a 9pm watershed for TV advertising of HFSS products, and similar protection for children viewing adverts online. This will also consider whether the current self- regulatory approach for non-broadcast advertising continues to be the right approach for protecting children from the advertising of HFSS products, or whether legislation is necessary. This consultation is now open (available here) and closes on 10 June 2019.
  • a consultation on banning price promotions (e.g. buy one get one free) and promotion by location (e.g. checkouts) of food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt. This consultation is now closed (available here). FDF’s response to the consultation is available here.

Scotland

In July 2018, the Scottish Government (SG) published its obesity prevention plan – A Healthier Future. It contains the overarching ambition, mirrored by England, to half childhood obesity by 2030 and reduce health inequalities. With respect to marketing, SG will:

  • renew its call to Westminster to ban broadcast advertising of HFSS foods before 9pm watershed
  • renew its call to Westminster to work together on online advertising restrictions
  • call on UK Government to restrict use of licensed characters, brand equity characters and celebrities on HFSS products
  • engage with local authorities, transport companies and media agencies to develop a code of practice in 2019 to restrict advertising of HFSS foods on sites they manage such as bus shelters, stations and inside buses and trains
  • request that the ASA strengthen the implementation of its CAP code by removing advertising of HFSS foods within a radius of 800m of any site with 25% or more footfall by under 16 year old’s, including schools
  • undertake a consultation to restrict the promotion of food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt. The consultation on this closed in January 2019 (available here). FDF’s response to the consultation is available here

Wales

In January 2019, The Welsh Government published a draft obesity strategy which proposes a limit on the use of advertising and promotion of unhealthy food in public places. This would include, but is not limited to, train and bus stations/bus stops/on buses and at sporting and other events.

The Welsh Government also set out its support of a 9pm watershed for HFSS advertisements, and suggests that the use of brand generated and licensed character/celebrity endorsement of products should be banned across all media.

Transport for London Advertising Restrictions

In February 2019, Transport for London (TfL) implemented a ban on advertisements for HFSS products across its network. The ban also states that food and drink companies cannot advertise their brand unless it promotes a healthier (non HFSS) product. Restrictions apply across the TfL estate including underground, TfL rail, buses, river services, tram, DLR and taxi services.

Incidental images, graphical representations and references to products that promote the consumption of HFSS products will also not be permitted.

The definition of a HFSS product is determined by the current UK nutrient profiling model and TfL has confirmed that the outcome of any review or revision of the nutrient profiling model will be ‘taken into consideration’.

Advertisements for HFSS products may be considered for an exception by TfL if the advertiser can demonstrate, with appropriate evidence, that the product does not contribute to child obesity. Guidance on exemptions is available, and includes consideration of:

  • Is there is a ‘healthier’ version of the product that passes the NPM?
  • Is the product on PHE’s sugar or calorie reduction lists?
  • Is the product generally consumed by children? (under 18)
  • Does the presentation of the product appeal to children?

Current Advertising Regulation

The UK advertising industry is governed by strict codes of practice that are designed to protect consumers and create a level playing field for advertisers. Within these codes there are robust provisions relating to children. The codes are self-regulatory and cover all kinds of promotional communications. For both codes, a child is mainly defined as ‘anyone under 16’, although there are a small number of additional provisions for younger children.

The UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code) applies to the content and scheduling of television and radio advertisements. It also covers programme sponsorship credits on radio and television services but complaints about these are handled by Ofcom.

The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP Code) applies to advertisements across media including newspapers, magazines, billboards, posters, leaflets, mailings, e-mails, texts and on UK based company websites.

Both codes include general rules that state advertising must be responsible, must not mislead, offend, encourage pester power or encourage overconsumption. Both codes also state that advertising products high in fat, salt or sugar (often referred to as ‘HFSS’) is not permitted in media of appeal to children. A food or drink is defined as ‘HFSS’ or ‘non HFSS’ by using the UK nutrient profiling model (NPM)

The UK NPM is currently under review and a new model is expected to be announced in 2019. CAP and BCAP will then consult on the usability, proportionality and credibility of the new model and how best to incorporate it into advertising codes. FDF has concerns about the newly proposed model - specifically that a free sugars criterion will make the model difficult to use, and that it would prevent the advertising of pure fruit juices and smoothies, most high fibre breakfast cereals and sweetened yogurts / fromage frais.

ASA

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the UK independent regulator for advertising across all media. ASA responds to complaints and proactively checks the media to take action against misleading, harmful or offensive advertisements, sales promotions and direct marketing. If ASA judges an advert to be in breach of the Codes, it must be withdrawn or amended and the advertiser must not use the approach again. Further information is available at ASA: About Regulation

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Last reviewed: 02 May 2019