Evidential Test for Scheduling HFSS food adverts on TV

A recent ASA adjudication concerned ITV’s scheduling of a McDonald’s advert for their ‘Double Quarter-Pounder with Cheese’ burger. The advert was cleared by Clearcast with an ‘ex-kids’ scheduling restriction, which meant that it should not be shown in or around programmes made for, or specifically targeted at, children, because it featured a product that was high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS).  The TV ad was broadcast on ITV2 at 1:50 pm on Saturday 15 August 2020 during the film ‘Nancy Drew’.

A complaint was made against ITV as the scheduler of adverts as to whether the ad for an HFSS product had been broadcast during a programme that was directed at or of particular appeal to children, and therefore if it was appropriately scheduled.

  • ITV Broadcasting Ltd explained that they had assessed the content of the film, which included relatively adult themes such as murder, kidnapping and psychological and physical attacks, and concluded that it was not principally directed at or commissioned for under 16s.
  • The film was shown four times in 2020, including on the date the ad was seen. Broadcaster’s Audience Research Board (BARB) data from those broadcasts showed that under-16s were consistently under-represented in the audience, and was therefore below the threshold at which the film would be considered to appeal particularly to children. From that data, combined with their assessment of the film’s content and commissioning intention, they concluded that it was not commissioned for, principally directed at, or of particular appeal to viewers under the age of 16.

McDonald’s responded that the available evidence showed that the film was not of particular appeal to under 16s, or commissioned for or principally directed towards that audience. They believed that for a film produced outside the UK for theatrical release, rather than commissioned for television, that the most relevant data to consider was objective audience data from previous broadcasts of the film.

The ASA considered that although some of the intended audience would be under 16, it was also directed at adults and families.  In addition, the BARB data provided by ITV demonstrated clearly that the broadcast of the film on the date that the ad was shown, and the previous three broadcasts of the film, had not been of particular appeal to audiences below the age of 16. The ASA therefore concluded that ITV had not scheduled the ad inappropriately.

Summary

The ASA would have chosen to pursue and publish this adjudication to give further guidance on what was required for scheduling decisions on HFSS food adverts.

It is set out, where available, as a two-part test; firstly considering the age range the programme is ‘principally directed or commissioned for;’ and then, secondly, whether this is backed up by any substantiating audience data.

However, if the audience data after the screening did not reflect the first consideration it would be very difficult to argue in practice; therefore BARB data either historically or from similar shows is most important in guiding scheduling decisions. 

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