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ASA HFSS ruling on Cadbury's Easter promotion

Published on 24 September 2018

When engaging influencers to promote a high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) product, how can advertisers ensure that they will not be promoting their product to children?

The facts

On 22 March 2018 Cadbury and the National Trust for Scotland ran a website for a joint promotion, which featured downloadable content for Cadbury.  There were three main elements:

  1. the website featured the heading "Enjoy Easter Fun" and an image of a rabbit holding an Easter egg wrapped in purple foil with the words "join the Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt" written on it, using the Cadbury logo.Further down the page, website visitors could download a storybook and an activity pack;
  2. the storybook featured an image on its cover of the Easter bunny wearing a purple waistcoat, holding a purple egg.The story featured children on an Easter egg hunt looking for purple Easter eggs that were hidden by the bunny who lived in a purple warren with a purple chest full of purple Easter eggs; and
  3. the activity pack, titled "eggciting activities" featured an image of a rabbit holding a Cadbury branded purple egg on its first page, with smaller Cadbury branded purple chocolate eggs.

The complaints

In 2007 the advertising of high in fat salt and sugar (HFSS) products aimed at children under 16 was prohibited.  In 2017 the ASA expanded these rules to cover non-broadcast media including online and social media.  CAP Code rule 15.18 prohibits product advertisements that are directed at people under 16 though the selection of media or the context in which they appear.  Additionally, no medium should be used to advertise HFSS products, if more than 25% of its audiences are under 16 years of age.

The Obesity Health Alliance challenged whether the ads were for HFSS products that were directed at children.

The response

Cadbury stated that all their promotional campaigns were targeted at parents and adults rather than children.  The ad was part of the Cadbury website and advertised their partnership with the National Trust for Scotland, specifically the Cadbury Easter Egg Hunts and trails that took place at National Trust for Scotland’s properties.

Cadbury explained that 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.  Due to this, it was the belief of Cadbury that only adults were likely to have visited the website.  They noted that the website and the content on it were aimed a parents and adults as inspiration and tools for them to use with their families in the lead up to and across the Easter weekend.  They said the website and its content were not of particular appeal to children and the content was designed for adult family members considering whether or not to take the family on an outing.

Cadbury highlighted that the content on the website was designed to encourage families across the nation to spend some time together over the Easter weekend.  Additionally, Cadbury maintained that the downloadable storybook was designed as a book for the family to enjoy together

The decision

The ASA upheld the complaints in relation to ads (b) and (c) only.

The CAP code requires that HFSS product ads cannot be directed at children though their choice of media or the context in which they appear.  No medium should be used to advertise HFSS products if more than 25% of the audience would be under the age of 16.

Ad (a) was a section from the Cadbury website, which featured Cadbury Easter-themed chocolate products and branding, all of which were HFSS.  However, the website was focused on providing information regarding a Cadbury-sponsored Easter Egg Hunt at National Trust Properties and the website was directed at adults through its content and presentation.  It was not directed at children through the selection of media or context in which it appeared.  Furthermore, data from Cadbury showed that over a third of visitors had done so through the National Trust website, a third through search engine results and a quarter arrived on the website directly.  The ASA therefore decided it was unlikely that over 25% of its visitors were under the age of 16.

Ad (b), the storybook, featured Cadbury's purple throughout, including a border with Cadbury milk 'splash' on each page.  The final page stated "Cadbury wishes you a happy Easter" on their purple background.  Given the products were identifiable as Cadbury; the storybook was an HFSS product ad under the Code. 

Ad (c), the activity pack, also featured Cadbury's branding and images of Easter-themed HFSS products.  Consequently, this was also an HFSS product ad under the Code.

The ASA acknowledged that the storybook and activity pack were accessible only through the website, and would likely be used by children under the supervision of an adult.  However, both were created for children and would be given to children to use.  The ASA concluded that ad (b) and (c) were both directed at children, and breached CAP Code rule 15.18.  Both ads had to be removed in the form complained about.

Why is this important?

The ruling gave some indication as to what the ASA will and will not tolerate when it comes to HFSS advertising, particularly with assets created specifically for children.

The decision comes amid separate UK government talks on the potential ban of junk food advertising on TV before 9pm, and an announcement by CAP that they will be reviewing how effective the rules have been.  It is clear that HFSS advertising will continue to be a contentious topic, and strict enforcement is almost certain to continue.

Any practical tips?

Advertisers should ensure that a cautious approach is adopted when promoting HFSS products.  Promotional material aimed at children should use minimal branding if it is an HFSS product.  If there is the possibility that the ad for the HFSS product could be accessed by children, then utilising age targeting tools on each media platform should help ensure that it will not be directed at an inappropriate audience.