Junk Bonds: Breaking Bad Food Behaviour

We all know that high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) foods aren’t the best things for us, despite how absolutely amazing they may taste. Childhood obesity is on the rise and the advertising industry has, in the past, been blamed for promoting unhealthy foods to children and contributing to the decline in children’s health. But now the Advertising Standards Authority is launching two new initiatives to review the strict rules in place around advertising HFSS food and drink in the UK. Could it help to break the bad habits of a generation?

The Rules

While the rules in the UK were pretty strict already, the ASA tightened them up even further in July 2017. The rules apply to media targeted at people under the age of 16 and, most importantly, the rules also apply to non-broadcast media (social media, print etc.):

– Ads that directly or indirectly promote an HFSS product cannot appear in children’s media.
– Ads for HFSS products cannot appear in other media where children make up over 25% of the audience.
– If the content targets under-12s, ads for HFSS products will not be allowed to use promotions, licensed characters and celebrities popular with children. Ads will, however, be allowed to use these techniques to advertise healthier products.
– The Department of Health nutrient profiling model will be used to classify which products are HFSS.

Now these rules all seem relatively common sense. And in reality, companies advertising HFSS products aren’t really targeting children. They’re targeting parents and/or carers through children. Because children – at least young ones – aren’t going to be paying for the products.

‘But adverts don’t influence me!’ you’re probably thinking. It’s a familiar statement. But is it true? The simple answer is no. In 2017, UK companies invested £22.1 billion in advertising – that’s a lot of money to invest in something that doesn’t work. Good advertising works because it creates positive (or negative where needed) memories and feelings that in turn, influence our behaviour over time. If Child Road Safety can do it to get kids to cross the road safely, then McDonalds can certainly make it work to sell more fries and fizzy juice.

The ASA do recognise that evidence shows advertising only has a moderate effect on the food preferences of children. But if it has any effect, it can be used for a positive reason – like helping to tackle the ongoing child obesity issues in the UK.

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The New Initiatives

The two new initiatives will cover:

– TV
– New Media

Children’s exposure to HFSS food ads have been reduced by 40% since 2010, but the initiatives look to see if there is more that can be done surrounding programmes with a family audience, rather than just children. X Factor, for example, is more likely to have a high percentage of children watching with their parents than the Graham Norton Show. The ads shown during those family shows may thus need to be further restricted.

The second initiative looks to tackle HFSS adverts online rather than on TV. With children spending more time online that watching TV, the rules ban HFSS food ads on children’s websites or their social media. But is there more that could be done?

While the rules appear to have helped reduce the amount of HFSS food ads children are exposed to, we’re still seeing an increase in childhood obesity. Restrictions are never going to be the silver bullet, but if they can help contribute to a solution, that’s a positive outcome. If anything, the new initiatives will show where improvements can be made and can hopefully help to break bad food behaviour for future generations.

Navigating the new restrictions can be complicated, but we’re here to help. Contact us today!


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