Industry scoffs at junk food ad ban despite concessions

hamburger2The advertising and marketing industry has once again slated the Government after ministers confirmed they are pushing ahead with new restrictions on advertising so-called junk food from 2023, despite a number of concessions on the scale of the ban.

The Government first mooted proposals to banish ads for food and drink brands high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) in August 2019 with plans to move TV and online ads beyond the 9pm watershed. However, in November last year it was announced that the ban would extend to all online ads, no matter what time of day.

More than 800 food and drink manufacturers – including Unilever, Mars, Britvic, Kellogg’s and Associated British Foods – joined the fight against the plans, claiming the proposal was “disproportionate” and that targeting tools could easily assuage concerns.

The companies, which between them own more than 3,000 UK brands, insisted they were not been given enough time to submit detailed objections.

And now it seems ministers have relented and reverted to the original post watershed measures. The online ad ban will affect all paid-for forms of digital marketing, from ads on Facebook to paid-search results on Google, text message promotions, and paid activity on sites such as Instagram and Twitter.

However, branded advertising online and on TV will continue to be allowed as long as no HFSS products appear.

Brands will also be allowed to continue to promote their products on their own websites and social media accounts.

The government is also to exempt a range of products including zero-sugar drinks and even McDonald’s chicken nuggets, which are apparently not deemed an HFSS product.

The Government says that in order to keep the restrictions proportional, these new regulations will apply to food and drink products of most concern to childhood obesity and will ensure the healthiest in each category will be able to continue to advertise. This approach means foods such as honey, olive oil, avocados and marmite are excluded from the restrictions.

Meanwhile, companies with less than 250 employees will also continue to be allowed to advertise HFSS food products, while the measures do not apply to the business-to-business market.

HFSS advertising will still be permitted on podcasts and radio, and there will be no new restrictions for the outdoor advertising, including poster sites on buses, railway stations and airports.

Public Health Minister Jo Churchill said: “We are committed to improving the health of our children and tackling obesity. The content youngsters see can have an impact on the choices they make and habits they form. With children spending more time online it is vital we act to protect them from unhealthy advertising.

“These measures form another key part of our strategy to get the nation fitter and healthier by giving them the chance to make more informed decisions when it comes to food. We need to take urgent action to level up health inequalities. This action on advertising will help to wipe billions off the national calorie count and give our children a fair chance of a healthy lifestyle.”

Even so, the Advertising Association is fuming. Public affairs director Sue Eustace commented: “We are dismayed the Government is moving ahead with its HFSS ad ban on TV before the 9pm watershed and increased restrictions online.

“This means many food and drink companies won’t be able to advertise new product innovations and reformulations and larger food-on-the-go, pub and restaurant chains may not be able to tell their customers about their menus.

“Content providers – online publishers and broadcasters – will lose vital advertising revenue to fund jobs in editorial and programme-making.

“We all want to see a healthier, more active population, but the Government’s own analysis shows these measures won’t work. Levelling up society will not be achieved by punishing some of the UK’s most successful industries for minimal effect on obesity levels.”

Meanwhile, IPA legal and public affairs director Richard Lindsay added: “As the Government is very aware, the ad bans it will be imposing will have no effect on the serious problem of childhood obesity. The bans will grab headlines and suggest that Government is doing ‘something’, but what it is doing is misguided and will serve only to damage businesses, not protect children’s health.

“A TV watershed restriction will not target children and an online ban ignores more effective measures that would see technology being harnessed to reduce children’s exposure to certain types of ads without damaging businesses. The devil will be in the detail, but loud headlines do not mean good policy.”

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