Tough new rules banning online ads for high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) being targeted towards children are poised to come into force on Saturday (1 July), with both advertising and food industry bodies welcoming the move.
The restrictions were revealed by The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) last year, and will bring online media closer in line with broadcasting rules. Central to the new policy is the prevention of ads which promote sugary and salty food and drink options from appearing around TV-like content online if they are directed at, or likely to appeal to, children.
This could affect what type of ads are shown on platforms like YouTube and Facebook from brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, with CAP confirming that ads for HFSS products cannot appear in media where children make up 25% or more of the audience, including print, posters, cinema, online and on social media.
Content shared via these mains which is targeted towards under-12s will not be allowed to use promotions, licensed characters and celebrities popular with children in their ads, however the regulator said that advertisers may now use those techniques to better promote healthier options.
James Best, chairman of CAP called the rules a significant and positive change designed to protect the health and wellbeing of children; something that has been an ongoing debate since the Sugar Tax consultation – which will come into effect in April 2018 – was announced by the UK government last year.
“These measures demonstrate the advertising industry’s continuing commitment to putting the protection of children at the heart of its work,” Best said. “The new rules will alter the nature and balance of food advertising seen by children and play a meaningful part in helping change their relationship with less healthy foods.”
The definition of what constitutes a HFSS product will be modelled on the Department of Health’s nutrient profiling system.
The move has been prompted by the changing nature of the way young people consume media, with CAP producing research which shows that people aged five to 15 are spending around 15 hours a week online – overtaking the time spent by the same demographic watching TV.
The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) welcomed the new rules, with Richard Lindsay, director of legal and public affairs for the group saying: “Agencies and advertisers have had to comply with the broadcast rules on HFSS ads for years and will manage to do so across non-broadcast media too.
He added: “The new rules, which will apply across all non-broadcast media such as print, cinema and online – including social media – demonstrate that CAP is strong enough to take difficult decisions and flexible enough to implement them. The changes are designed to protect children, one of the core principles of our industry’s self-regulatory system, and the IPA supports them.”
The IPA's sentiment was echoed by Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, who called the decision a "landmark move".
The Children's Food Campaign, which lobbies to protect children from junk food marketing, had previously criticised the rules imploring CAP to ensure it closed "any loopholes" which arised.
Speaking today, Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the group, said it welcomed the rules after years of campaigning, but said he was still concerned about how the rules will work in practice.
"Past experience suggests that we will have a busy time ahead keeping a close eye on advertisers; submitting complaints; and challenging the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to clarify the grey areas and close down the loopholes. We know sweet and confectionery brands are among those most needing to step up," he noted.
The Drum reached out to Cadbury, McDonald's and General Mills to find out more about how brands plan to adapt their non-broadcast approach to advertising HFSS goods. Cadbury was unable to provide comment, and the latter two had not yet issued responses at the the time of publishing.
Lucozade Ribena Suntory, meanwhile, said it "entirely supports" the changes. "As a responsible manufacturer with our own voluntary marketing code – introduced at the establishment of our UK business in 2014 – we do not directly market HFSS drinks to under-16s and, moreover, do not directly market any of our products to under 12s," the drinks giant said in a statement from Jon Evans, its marketing and business development director.