ASA roundup - Rulings on Social media advertising of High in Fat, Salt or Sugar (HFSS) Foods

Following on from the Advertising Standard's Authority's (ASA’s) consideration of social media advertising for alcohol (namely that reasonable steps to ensure the appropriate targeting of the ad to an audience aged 18 and over that included interest-based factors as well as age date;)  this 4th July there were a series of four adjudications published concerning high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS food) that might be directed to children, those under 16.

The CAP Code required that HFSS product ads must not be directed at children through the selection of media or the context in which they appeared, and that no medium should be used to advertise HFSS products if more than 25% of its audience was under the age of 16. The ASA considered that marketers should take reasonable steps to target age-restricted ads appropriately.

  • The ASA set out the key tools that an advertiser could use to restrict the audience of their posts to specific groups in Cloetta UK Ltd by setting age restrictions and targeting particular interests.
  • The ruling in Ferraro considered the specific aspects of each type of social media, the age data relating to each and so subsequent context for the ads.
     
  • A ruling against Mondelez t/a Cadburys considered not simply the age range of those in first in receipt of the adverts but who they were specifically directed at ultimately.
     
  • The ruling in Walkers Snacks Ltd concerned both alcohol and HFSS products and showed that even where age data and interest based factors were considered insufficient there could be some further external data requirements, (such as store loyalty or visa card ownership,) that provided the necessary tool for appropriate targeting. Also interest based targeting may be used to exclude groups with younger interests if the primary premise was very broad.

Cloetta UK Ltd - Four posts on Chewits’ “Chewie the Chewitsaurus” Facebook page referencing  ‘good luck’ for GCSE results, September back to school / sweet treats, Roald Dahl day and international school libraries month.  The Children’s Food Campaign (Sustain) challenged whether these ads were for products that were high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS product ads) that were directed at children.   

The ruling pivoted on the appropriate age targetting by Cloetta UK Ltd. Cloetta responded the data showed that the vast majority of visitors to the page consisted of adults: in July 2017, 81% of consumers who interacted with the page were 18 years of age or over; in January 2018 that figure had increased to 87%. Of the 13% of users who were aged under 18 in January 2018, a significant proportion were 16 and over. They said they did not have information about the percentage of internet users who were not logged into Facebook when they visited the page.

The complaint was however upheld.  The ASA considered that the posts were ‘pushed out’ to the Newsfeeds of Facebook users who had liked or followed their page. A small percentage of Facebook users who had liked or followed Cloetta’s Facebook page were registered as under the age of 16. The ads would therefore have been ‘pushed out’ to some Facebook users who were registered as under 16, and visible on Cloetta’s Facebook page to users registered as under 16 who had not liked or followed the page. The ASA therefore held the ads had been directed to some children aged under 16. The posts would also have been visible to the friends of those who had liked or shared the posts, which all four ads specifically encouraged.

ASA stated businesses had three key tools available to them which they could use to restrict the audience of their page and individual posts, and to target posts to specific groups.

  1. Advertisers were able to set age restrictions to limit who could see and like their Facebook page, based on the registered age of the Facebook user.
  2. When posting content on Facebook, advertisers were able to restrict the audience of a post by age, again based on the registered age of the Facebook user.
  3. Advertisers were able to target their posts to the Newsfeeds of certain groups of people based on their interests (although that did not prevent people outside those interest-based groups from seeing the post on the advertiser’s own Facebook page).

The ASA held that because the Facebook page related specifically to an HFSS product Cloetta should have used the tools available to them to prevent Facebook users who were registered as under 16 from viewing the Chewits Facebook page.

Ferraro UK Ltd - A range of social media ads for Ferrero’s Nutella, including a YouTube video, Instagram post, two Tweets from PointlessBlog, and an Instagram post from Zoella referencing #WorldNutellaDay.  Three complainants, who believed that PointlessBlog and Zoella were popular with children under 16 years of age, challenged whether the ads were ads for products that were high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS products) that were directed at children.

The complaints were not upheld. 

Ferrero UK Ltd said that when selecting vloggers for endorsing and advertising World Nutella Day they had considered it to be extremely important to select vloggers whose audience demographic did not exceed the percentage of audience under 16 years of age permitted in respect to HFSS food products. They said that only a small percentage of PointlessBlog and Zoella’s followers were in the 13 to 17 age bracket.  Clear guidelines to the vloggers, stated in their contracts, in order to proactively guide them to create content in line with the CAP Code. The content was required to be addressed to an adult audience and not include any exhortation directed at children or to appeal to children. Ferrero confirmed that the World Nutella Day campaign did not include any ads in paid-for space on social media.

As the ads appeared on a range of different social media platforms, the ASA assessed each of the ads’ compliance with the Code based on the specific ways in which consumers interacted with the different platforms, the targeting tools available to advertisers on each of the different platforms when posting non-paid for content, and the data available relating to the age profile of the vlogger’s audiences.

  • YouTube video: less than 25% of PointlessBlog’s registered UK subscriber base and users who viewed his videos while logged in were registered as being under 18, and therefore that an even smaller proportion were under 16. The ASA understood that many people used YouTube while not logged in, however they did not have a basis on which to believe that there would be a significant difference between the demographic profile of users viewing PointlessBlog’s videos while not logged in and his logged in or subscribed viewers.
     
  • Instagram: The ASA considered that consumers were unlikely to use Instagram or interact with the Instagram pages of individuals or businesses unless they were signed in to their Instagram account. As non-paid for posts, the Instagram posts from PointlessBlog and Zoella would have only have been seen by their followers and in the feeds of any followers who had re-grammed the posts. The ASA understood that because they were non-paid for posts, neither vlogger nor Ferrero would have been able to utilise the age restrictions or interest based targeting available on Instagram for paid-for ads. The ASA noted that less than 25% of both vlogger’s followers worldwide were registered as under 18, which was also in line with the age profile of their YouTube audiences.
     
  • Twitter: The tweets from PointlessBlog, would only have been seen by PointlessBlog’s followers and in the feeds of any followers or Twitter users who had either liked or retweeted the posts. The ASA understood that because they were non-paid for posts, neither PointlessBlog nor Ferrero would have been able to utilise the age restrictions or interest based targeting available on Twitter for paid-for ads. The ASA understood that the age demographic break down for PointlessBlog’s Twitter followers was not available from Twitter analytics and therefore neither Ferrero nor PointlessBlog was able to access such information. While the ASA understood that many people used Twitter while they were not logged in, they considered the advertisers had used the most robust demographic data available to them (that relating to UK subscribers/viewers of the YouTube channel and worldwide followers on Instagram) when determining whether it was appropriate to place the ads in PointlessBlog’s Twitter feed. Twitter’s overall demographic data showed that between 81% and 91% of UK Twitter users were aged 18 and over.

The ASA considered that reasonable steps had been taken to target the ads appropriately.

Mondelez UK Ltd t/a Cadburys - A website for a joint promotion between Cadbury and the National Trust for Scotland, and downloadable content for Cadbury, referenced Easter egg hunts with the Cadbury logo and eggs, a downloadable storybook and activity pack. The Obesity Health Alliance challenged whether the ads were for products that were high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS product ads) that were directed at children.

Mondelez said that all their promotional campaigns were targeted at parents and adults rather than children, specifically the Cadbury Easter Egg Hunts and trails that took place at National Trust for Scotland’s properties. They said the website was advertised only in media targeted to adults: Facebook and Instagram ads targeted to users registered as over 18 and categorised as a ‘Parent’; ads on a parent-targeted section of a news website; and in a TV ad which had not been shown around programmes for under 16s or programmes likely to appeal particularly to under 16s. They therefore believed that only adults were likely to have visited the website. They provided data showing the route by which consumers had visited the website, and Google Analytics data relating to the demographic profile of website visitors, but noted that Google was not able to track users below the age of 18 and the data therefore only related to website visitors aged 18 or over.

Cadbury said the downloadable storybook was designed as a book for the whole family to enjoy together. While the book was downloadable from the website, children would be listening to it as told by adults and so would not make any connection with Cadbury or any of their products.  Cadbury acknowledged that the activity pack included Cadbury branding but they said it would not be visible to children unless their parents or an adult provided it to them. They said the messaging about the pack on the website and in the pack itself was directed at adults and the content was drafted in such a way that adults would be required to help their children.

The National Trust for Scotland highlighted that while the website related to their joint promotion with Cadbury – the Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt – the downloadable content of the storybook and activity pack did not contain reference to their name, logo or events and therefore did not promote the National Trust for Scotland.

Complaints were upheld in relation to the storybook and the activity pack.

The ASA agreed the website was directed at adults through its presentation and content and therefore concluded it was not directed at children through the selection of media or context in which it appeared. While Cadbury was not able to provide data showing the demographic profile of visitors to the website, the ASA considered it was unlikely that over 25% of its visitors were under the age of 16.  However, whilst the downloadable content was most likely accessed by predominantly adult visitors to the website, the ASA considered the storybook and activity pack were specifically created as content for children under 16 years of age and would be given to children to use, albeit by their parents/adults. The ASA therefore considered the storybook and activity pack were  directed at children through the selection of media and in breach of the code, despite the intervening adult presence.

Walkers Snacks Ltd - Two paid-for posts on Instagram for Walkers Max Strong crisps referenced ‘perfect with beer’ and ‘perfect beer snacks’ with photos of bowls of crisps and open bottle of beer.  A complaint was made that the ads for alcohol and a high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS product) were directed at people under 18 due to appearing on social media, instagram.

The CAP Code required that alcohol ads must not be directed at people under 18 through the selection of media or the context in which they appeared. The Code also required that HFSS ads must not be directed at people under 16 through the selection of media or the context in which they appeared. Both ads featured images of beer and the HFSS product Walkers Max Strong crisps. Both ads were therefore alcohol ads and HFSS product ads for the purposes of the Code.

The ASA considered that marketers should take reasonable steps to target age-restricted ads appropriately.  The ASA repeated their finding of June 2018’s Diageo adjudication for Captain Morgan by stating that age-restricted ads on online platforms should not only target audiences based on age data, but because of younger users misreporting their age / different people sharing the same device, advertisers should additionally target users by interest-based factors, to help remove those aged under 18 or 16 years from a target audience.

Walkers had used interest based factors to target the ads. The interest based groups they chose (snack foods, music, entertainment and music festivals) had the effect of targeting the ads to consumers who were more likely to be interested in the advertised product. However, the ASA considered those interests were likely to have broad appeal and that the groups were likely to include children under the ages of 16 and 18 as well as older children and adults. Walkers had also not used interest based factors to exclude groups of people more likely to be under 16 or 18 from their target audience.

Notwithstanding that, in addition to targeting the ads only to Instagram users who were registered on the platform as aged from 18 to 44 years (and who were in one of the specified interest based groups), Walkers had ensured that the ads were only targeted to a sub-group of users who also had either a store loyalty card or a Visa card which required them to be aged 18 or older.  It was this external data that meant the ASA considered sufficient action had been done to corroborate the registered ages of the targeted group and that it was unlikely that the ad had been targeted to anyone under the age of 18.

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