ISBA fights back against govt’s anti-obesity ad clampdown

The advertising and media industries are facing a dramatically extended new government ban on the advertising of foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reported to be planning a 9pm watershed on all HFSS TV ads (not just those aimed at kids), a new clampdown on online advertising of unhealthy foods, and tight restrictions on in-store promotions.

Yet the industry denies any link between obesity and advertising. Phil Smith, Director General, ISBA, said: “We are deeply concerned by reports that the Prime Minister is seeking to ignore the evidence and implement wide ranging advertising restrictions as part of the Obesity Strategy.

“Brands have partnered effectively with government over the lockdown period to support, develop and amplify public health campaigns as well as safeguard and support employees. Just as business begins to chart a course back from the severe impacts of Covid-19, such an ill-thought out policy cuts across Treasury efforts to support the sector and risks jobs and livelihoods.”

Restrictions will take some time to put in place, but the news couldn’t come at a worse time for the industry, as it struggles to deal with the coronavirus fallout. However, a 2018 NHS England study found that 64 per cent of adults and 30 per cent of children were overweight or obese, hospital admissions linked to obesity were up by 25 per cent, and various Public Health England ad campaigns have made no difference.

Covid isn’t going away and obesity is a big risk factor, but many have gained “Covid kilos” gained lockdown. Johnson’s extra pounds and his time in intensive care may have been a contributing factor, but the PM appears to have ruled out an extension to the sugar tax and put the blame on advertising instead.

Ad industry initiatives like adam&eveDDB’s “Eat them to defeat them” effort for ITV and Veg Power were a brave attempt to keep this kind of legislation at bay, but it has always looked like a losing battle. On the bright side, marketers like McDonald’s have been ingenious in finding ways to advertise their brands by focusing on the more healthy offerings.

Gambling ads — which are currently playing a big part in keeping the ad industry afloat — are equally contentious and could well be next in the firing line.

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About Emma Hall

Emma Hall
Emma Hall is the former Europe Editor of Ad Age, where she covered European marketing advertising, digital and media stories. She has written for newspapers including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times and the Telegraph, and was previously a section editor at Campaign. Emma started her career in New York as a researcher for a biography of Keith Richards.