The advertising and marketing industry is calling on the Government to scrap plans for a total ban on online ads for so-called “junk food”, arguing that, such a move will be a “huge blow” to the business at a time when it is already “reeling from the impact of Covid-19”.
Ministers have already unveiled plans to outlaw TV ads for food and drink that is high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) before the 9pm watershed but now they want to go further and ban all online ads for these products.
However, the proposal will not only hit big spending brands including McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Coca-Cola and Domino’s, thousands of UK takeaways rely heavily on social media to promote their services, too.
Andrew Crooks of the British Takeaway Campaign recently warned the move would “punitively punish” thousands of small, independent eateries already reeling from the effects of the coronavirus crisis.
He has written to culture secretary Oliver Dowden urging him to exempt independent takeaways, kebab shops and curry houses with fewer than five outlets.
Crooks said: “These local businesses do not have multi-million pound TV marketing campaigns. For them, social media is their shop window, especially when we’re in and out of lockdown.
“Removing their ability to advertise robs them of a crucial way to reach customers, when nobody knows what the future holds and takeaways continue to have a vital role in keeping the nation fed.”
The Government insists it only wants to protect children online, and believes stricter controls could lead to 120,000 fewer overweight and obese children in the UK.
Now, ahead of the planned launch by the Government of its consultation on the issue, the leaders of the advertising and marketing industry bodies have issued a strongly worded joint statement, calling for a rethink.
Signed by Advertising Association CEO Stephen Woodford, ISBA chief Phil Smith, IPA head Paul Bainsfair and IAB boss Jon Mew, it reads: “Obesity is rightly recognised by the public and by health experts as a complex problem, and one for which there is no single answer. But the proposal to completely outlaw online advertising of certain food and drink is a severe and disproportionate measure that goes far beyond the Government’s objective of protecting children. Instead, it will do untold harm to the UK’s vitally important creative sector and food & drink businesses at an economically precarious time.
“The advertising sector is a proven engine of the UK economy, and we would urge ministers not to damage the jobs and tax revenue it creates. Beyond these direct benefits, the UK’s world-leading advertising sector also underpins the success of the food and drink industry – itself the UK’s largest manufacturing sector.
“The Government is setting out headline-grabbing proposals, but we are far from convinced that they have made the case, or set out the evidence for, a heavy-handed intervention of this kind. We urge ministers to start engaging meaningfully with industry now, and to develop evidenced solutions that are targeted at the problem they wish to address, appropriate to digital media and fit for the 21st century.
“If this policy of an outright ban goes ahead, it will deal a huge blow to UK advertising at a time when it is reeling from the impact of Covid-19. This consultation has landed just as we have entered another period of lockdown, with all the heightened uncertainty this creates for people and businesses right across the country.
“Businesses that should be devoting their time and energy to surviving this economically unpredictable situation will now have to devote precious resources to responding to the Government and working out whether they will even be able to advertise their products in future.
“To borrow the Prime Minister’s language, this is not an ‘oven ready’ policy; it is not even half-baked. But it does have all the ingredients of a kick in the teeth for our industry from a Government which we believed was interested in prioritising economic growth alongside targeted interventions to support health and wellbeing.”
The Government’s latest obesity strategy, designed to get the nation fit and healthy, protect themselves against Covid and help the NHS, was first unveiled in July.
At the time, Prime Minister Boris Johnson – a self-confessed cheese lover – said: “Losing weight is hard but with some small changes we can all feel fitter and healthier. If we all do our bit, we can reduce our health risks and protect ourselves against coronavirus – as well as taking pressure off the NHS.”
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