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By Sam Bradley, Journalist

August 7, 2018 | 4 min read

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned ads from KFC and Coco Pops for breaking rules around marketing fast food to children, while rejecting calls to ban a McDonald’s ad.

The rulings come amid an ongoing debate about how brands target foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) towards kids.

The Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of health and education charities and organisations including the British Medical Association and Cancer Research UK, complained about the KFC and Coco Pops ads. The watchdog also investigated a a McDonald’s spot following a separate complaint.

In the Coco Pops ad (above), which was aired on TV to promote Coco Pops Granola, a group of animated animals were shown competing to knock coconuts down from a tree.

Coco the Monkey, the brand's longstanding mascot, was shown persuading the characters to abandon the fruit in favour of the chocolate-flavoured cereal.

The regulator said that although Coco Pops Granola was not considered a product high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS), the use of Coco Pops branding would have the effect of promoting the main line of Coco Pops products, which are considered subject to HFSS advertising rules.

It ruled that the ad “must not be broadcast again in or adjacent to TV programmes directed a audiences below the age of 16.”

A poster ad for KFC’s Mars Krushems drink, displayed on a telephone box close to the entrance of a primary school was also investigated.

KFC argued that the ad’s placement was a mistake and said it had removed the poster, but the ASA said that the placement still breached rules on marketing HFSS products, telling the fried chicken brand to take further measures to prevent it happening again.

The McDonald’s ad, a voucher promotion displayed on the back of a bus ticket, also came under scrutiny. Despite the fact that public transport in the UK is regularly used by children, the ASA said that the ad did not break HFSS rules because bus tickets are not specifically targeted towards children.

A spokesperson for Kellogg’s UK and Ireland, owner of the Coco Pops brand, said: “We are disappointed with this decision as we ensured throughout the advert that we were only promoting the Coco Pops Granola product, a cereal that can be advertised in children’s airtime.

“It’s particularly surprising when a ruling from the television regulator Ofcom, published on Monday, confirmed that the same advert was not in breach of the advertising code.

“We have now reduced sugar in Coco Pops Original by 40%, but kept the same great taste. This means original Coco Pops now also meets the strict nutritional profiling for foods that can be advertised on children’s TV.”

Updated rules concerning ads for HFSS products online and in other non-broadcast mediums have been in place since July 2017.

The Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP), which sets the rules enforced by the ASA, specifies that ads for sugary and salty food and drink are not allowed to be placed in or around media that are directed at children, or where 25% of the audience is under 16. ​

The first ads to be banned under the new rules were for Cadbury’s seasonal Easter egg products, earlier this year, however, the effectiveness of these guidelines is currently under review by CAP.

The advertising body has also called for evidence on the impact of junk food ads on children.

The ASA's latest bans come amid separate UK government talks on a potential ban of junk food advertising on TV before the 9pm watershed.

The government is eyeing solutions to help cut child obesity in the UK by limiting advertising directed at children.

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