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18 August 2021
What the HFSS ad ban means for marketing
Advertising regulationPublic healthUnited Kingdom
Despite outcry from industry groups, the UK government’s ban on the advertising and promotion of foods and beverages that are high in fat, sugar, and salt (HFSS) will go ahead from around the end of 2022, and will hold major repercussions for both retailers and marketers.
Why it matters
Like alcoholic drinks, HFSS products will now face limits on when and where they can advertise, with the proposed legislation – broken down here in a joint report by Edge and WARC – seeking to severely restrict ads where children will see them. These limits are far-reaching and change the structure of liability.
The point of the new regulations is to stem overconsumption of HFSS products by children and will do this by bans on certain types of in-store volume promotions and impulse placements. Crucially, the policy’s goal is to spur reformulation, rather to damage business.
What you can’t do
The HFSS ad ban will apply across different media, with watersheds for linear media and total bans for online:
A 9pm “watershed” for TV ads and sponsorship for these products, meaning no such messaging can run before this time each day. This watershed also applies to UK-based streaming services.
A complete ban on online advertising of HFSS products. This extends as far as non-UK based streaming services, to influencer ads, to paid search listings.
What you can do
A major carve out for manufacturers of HFSS food and drinks is that brand advertising (namely, advertising that does not depict a HFSS product itself) and sponsorship is allowed on TV before 9pm, and is permitted online.
Ultimately, this policy is widely supported by the public and is a sign of a deeper change. Some brands are already finding success with non-HFSS variants – see the reformulated McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets, which now pass under the HFSS threshold, or Coke Zero.
On the hook
TV and streaming rules: Broadcasters and streaming services under UK jurisdiction will be held responsible for maintaining the 9pm watershed.
Online and non-UK streaming: Advertisers will be liable for breaches of the ban here, whether for regular online ads or influencer content that breaks the rules.