Advertising Unhealthy Food And Drink To Children Online Facing Possible Crackdown

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), the body responsible for writing the UK Advertising Code, has launched a public consultation on introducing new rules on the advertising to children of food and soft drink products in non-broadcast media, including online.

It said the action was being taken in response to concerns around childhood obesity, as well as the need to ensure the advertising rules reflect changing media habits amongst young people.

The main proposals outlined by CAP are to:

  • Introduce a new rule to the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Direct and Promotional Marketing (the CAP Code) to limit where advertising for food and soft drink products high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS products) can be placed in all non-broadcast media, including traditional and online media
  • Explore through consultation whether the new rule should prohibit HFSS product advertising in media targeted at or of particular appeal to children under 12 or under 16
  • Apply the existing rules prohibiting the use of promotions and licensed characters and celebrities popular with children to HFSS product advertising only, allowing more creative ways for healthier foods to be advertised to children

CAP said that available evidence shows that advertising has a modest effect on children’s food preferences, but other factors like parental influence, opportunities for physical exercise, education etc play greater roles in the causes of and solutions to childhood obesity. However, it believes that even a relatively small positive impact from new advertising restrictions could make a meaningful contribution to tackling the health issue.

It added that the focus on the non-broadcast rules reflects the changing media consumption habits. The growth in popularity of the internet has changed the way children interact with the commercial world. Research from Ofcom, showed that in 2015, 96% of 12 to 15 year-olds spent more time online than watching TV.

Launching the consultation, Chairman of CAP, James Best said: “Too many children in the UK are growing up overweight or even obese, potentially damaging their health in later life and imposing a high cost on society. Advertising is just one small factor in a very complex equation but we believe we can play a positive part in addressing an urgent societal challenge. In proposing new rules, our aim is to strike the right balance between protecting children and enabling businesses to continue advertising their products responsibly.”

CAP is calling on parents, schools, public health officials, regulatory bodies and food and drink brands to help with its consultation. The consultation closes at 5pm on 22 July 2016.

Commenting on CAP’s consultation, Britvic’s CMO Matt Barwell said: “We all recognise that childhood obesity and obesity more widely is one of the most critical public health issues we face today. The evidence points to factors such as parental influence, access to exercise and education having a far greater impact on children’s food choices than advertising. However, at Britvic we welcome the review as we believe as brand owners we have a duty to protect children and that we need a series of changes to address the issue.

“We pride ourselves on the strength of our Global Marketing Code and are committed to high standards when it comes to protecting children. These proposed changes would lead to greater alignment between the CAP codes and our internal benchmark, which we welcome. At Britvic, we never advertise to children under 12 years, do not use licensed characters in our advertising, never associate our brands with online games or gaming (advergames) or engage in any in-game marketing.

“Furthermore, we never advertise high sugar products to under 16s. In fact our family and kids’ brands Fruit Shoot and Robinson’s contain no added sugar as we took the bold decision to stop selling and producing the added sugar ranges as part of our 2020 health commitments and in response to changing consumer preferences. In addition 75% of our marketing budget is spent promoting low and no sugar alternatives.

“We remain committed to using the power of our brands as a ‘force for good’ and encouraging healthier lifestyles early on to make a real difference in children’s lives. A great example is Fruit Shoot Mini Mudder, a kids’ version of Tough Mudder, which we established last year to inspire kids to get active, get muddy and explore their adventurous sides.

“Obesity is a complex problem, and so there is no silver bullet when it comes to tackling it. It will take creativity, collaboration, effort and time to drive change, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. As brand owners and advertisers we of course have a role to play.”