Interpretation of HFSS Food Advertising Restrictions for under 16’s

HFSS products are food and soft drink products that are high in fat, salt or sugar as identified using nutrient profiling.

There have been a series of 3 Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) adjudications that provide some extra guidance on the standard approach taken by the outdoor advertising industry not to place adverts for HFSS foods within 100 metres of a primary or secondary school as part of the approach taken to apply with CAP code that HFSS product ads must not be directed at children through the selection of media or the context in which they appear, and that no medium should be used to advertise HFSS products if more than 25% of its audience was under the age of 16.

Estimated % and Proximity to School

Despite clear calculations being provided by ad agency JCDecaux to underline their estimations that (despite the ad being placed by themselves in error) the McDonalds advert for a HFSS McFlurry product would be seen by less than the 25% under 16 year old benchmark, the ASA did not accept this. Rather the ASA stated this was an ‘estimation’ and preferred simply to follow the blunt tool, namely; that the advert was within 100m of a primary or secondary school therefore the audience of the ad would likely be significantly skewed towards under 16s and therefore directed at children through the context in which it appeared. No substantiating information was provided to back up this ruling by the ASA and so this arbitrary distance criteria may be considered to be a minimum benchmark.

A BurgerKing ad for the Whopper Jr meal deal was within 96m of a primary school and no estimates of % were provided; it was sufficient for the complaint to be upheld based solely on the fact the ad was within the 100m ring-fence; in this case it seemed to be simply accepted without question that those 4m of distance would make all the difference on context.

What might constitute a HFSS product?

A Subway poster featured seven products as part of the 'Sub of the Day' promotion, six were not classified as HFSS. A seventh, the ‘All Day Melt’ was a HFSS product but was only available on a Sunday when the volume of young people would be significantly reduced.

The ASA considered the poster was a HFSS product ad for the purposes of the Code. Therefore, it may be concluded that any mention of a HFSS product within an advert can bring it within the context of the requirements.

The complaints overall against Subway were not however upheld as, on measuring distances, the ad was outside the 100m ring-fence for a nearby school.

It was within 100m of a children’s centre but this was not considered unsuitable to carry HFSS ads under the standard approach taken by the outdoor ad industry. The reason for this stated by the ASA was that it was understood that in general children’s centres were attended by a smaller number of children than schools therefore the significance of the skewer to the under 16s would not be so pronounced.

Branding

An additional ASA ruling for a TV ad for Kelloggs did not uphold the complaint against them but also provided some further guidance on branding. Namely, that where there was a well-established brand/logo/character (in this case, Coco the Monkey,) it was incumbent on the brand owner to take careful steps to ensure that, if ads for non-HFSS products in the range were directed at children, the branding did not have the effect of promoting any other HFSS products within that range. In this case the non-HFSS product was clearly identified and identifiable with the product pack that was distinctive from other products in the range.

Summary

There appears to be a dogmatic approach being taken in these cases by the ASA which is not influenced by individual context and without consideration of the overall objective. However, at least there seems to be clarity on the application of this standard approach

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