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Advertisers react with dismay to punitive HFSS ad restrictions

Advertisers react with dismay to punitive HFSS ad restrictions

The shockwaves from yesterday’s Queen’s Speech continue to reverberate around adland, with industry representatives reacting with dismay to draconian interventions that will largely end the promotion of products that are high in high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS).

The government’s legislative program for the upcoming parliamentary session has gone down like a lead balloon among advertisers, thanks to the imposition of a 9pm watershed for all HFSS TV advertising coupled with a complete online ban.

The Health and Care Bill seeks to contain a spiralling obesity epidemic in Britain by shutting down avenues for the promotion of unhealthy food and drink to the public, proscribing any marketing of burgers, fizzy drinks and chocolate on TV until after most children are safely tucked up in bed.

Elevating junk food to the same category as sexual content, violence, distressing imagery and offensive language, the shift signals the end of daytime promotions of fast food, fatty snacks and sugary drinks.

Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association, remarked: “We are dismayed at the government’s decision, announced in today’s Queen’s Speech, that it is going to press ahead with a 9pm watershed and total online ban on HFSS advertising. The government’s evidence shows that such measures will be ineffective in tackling obesity. The country needs balanced, consistent and well-evidenced policy interventions that will make a positive difference.

“The 9pm watershed and online ban will not reduce obesity levels, but will damage business and innovation and put jobs at risk.”

Rubbing salt into the wounds of advertisers, the decision rides roughshod over prior warnings that any outright ban would amount to nothing more than an ‘irrelevant symbolic gesture’, from market watchers such as Enders Analysis.

In a highly critical 2020 report, the subscription research service observed: “While advocates of an extended ban would argue that less HFSS advertising can only be a good thing for reducing obesity, in reality it would not lead to any measurable reduction. Obesity is a behavioral and socioeconomically-driven issue that requires an equally focused intervention to be effective.”

The government’s tough stance must be read against the backdrop of the Covid-19 response, in which obesity was cited as an exacerbating factor behind many deaths. Prime minister Boris Johnson has cited his weight as a factor behind his hospitalization with the virus, a visceral experience that likely shaped the current crackdown.

Advertising trade bodies will be concerned that their representations on the matter appear to have gone unheeded, despite the Advertising Association, IPA, IAB and ISBA putting on a united front in opposition to any ban.

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