The government is set to push ahead with a ban on HFSS advertising, which will disappear altogether from online platforms and won’t be seen before 9pm on TV from January 2023.
It’s tough for an industry that is just trying to get back on its feet as we emerge from the pandemic, but there are likely to be some loopholes in the announcement that, with a bit of creativity, should soften the blow.
Brand ads are allowed as long as they don’t show pictures of the product. B2B also slips through the net, and online ads are fine in owned (rather than paid-for) media, so social media accounts won’t be restricted, and audio is for some reason exempt, so podcasts are OK. Plus SMEs with fewer than 250 employees are permitted to advertise HFSS products, and something called “transactional content” is allowed.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has pledged to tackle obesity, and advertising is an easy target compared with the challenges of getting people to eat more healthily. Plus it is less likely to anger the big food businesses than introducing a fat equivalent to the sugar tax, even though that has proved very effective.
Sue Eustace, public affairs director of the Advertising Association, said: “We are dismayed Government is moving ahead with its HFSS ad ban. 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 levelling up society will not be achieved by punishing some of the UK’s most successful industries for minimal effect on obesity levels.”
The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers’ director-general, Phil Smith, said: “Advertisers agree that Britain has an obesity problem and that action must be taken. But in seeking to regulate rather than innovate, government has tied itself in knots.
“There is no evidence that what Ministers are proposing will have any meaningful impact on children’s health. The possibilities of technology have been ignored, and industry’s attempts to deliver the desired outcome in a way which would also prevent economic harm to business have been waved away.
“We will look carefully at the detail, but at a moment which calls for economic recovery and serious, evidence-based policy to improve children’s health, it seems that government has plumped for headlines over meaningful reform.”