ASA rules that Chupa Chups ads don’t suck

Published on 05 July 2019

If you’re careful about placement and knowing the demographic of your audience, how safe are you showing ads for products high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS)? And what about using characters and celebrities popular with children for sugar-free products, which may be synonymous with the core HFSS range?

The background

Rule 15 of the CAP Code sets out rules for ads relating to food, food supplements and associated health or nutrition claims. This includes:

  • Rule 15.15 “Licensed characters and celebrities popular with children must be used with a due sense of responsibility. HFSS [food and drink] advertisements that are targeted directly at pre-school or primary school children through their content must not include licensed characters or celebrities popular with children… Licensed characters and celebrities popular with children may present factual and relevant generic statements about nutrition, safety, education or similar”.
  • Rule 15.18: “HFSS product advertisements must not be directed at people under 16 through the selection of media or the context in which they appear. No medium should be used to advertise HFSS products, if more than 25% of its audience is under 16 years of age”.

CAP advertising guidance catchily called “Identifying brand advertising that has the effect of promoting an HFSS product” additionally explains that "HFSS products can be promoted both directly, by including them in an advertisement, and indirectly, through the use of brands or branding that is synonymous with a specific HFSS product.

Recently, The Children’s Food Campaign (Sustain) complained to the ASA about a number of online ads for the lollipop brand Chupa Chups (manufactured by Perfetti Van Malle UK Ltd (Perfetti)). Sustain questioned whether certain of the ads (i) being for a HFSS product were appropriately targeted; and (ii) were HFSS food ads including licensed characters or celebrities popular with children and targeted through their content directly at children.

The ads were featured variously across Chupa Chups’ website and Facebook page, and on celebrity Emma Blackery’s YouTube channel. These ads included:

(a)        the Chupa Chups website itself, which featured appealing product pictures and Chupa Chups-related ads presenting popular vloggers

(b)       Facebook posts including (i) a Mr Men-type lollipop character; (ii) an illustration humorously suggesting that “ancient Chupa Chups history” should be on the school curriculum; and (iii) a video with a play on a well-known proverb, captioned: “Give a kid a Chupa Chups and you feed them for a day. Teach a kid how to unwrap a Chupa Chups and they suck for a lifetime

(c)        a video featuring Emma Blackery and vlogger Noodlerella reading out facts about Chupa Chups whilst doing impressions.

The decision

The complaint was not upheld; the ads were all found to be lawful.

(a) – Chupa Chups’ website

The ASA considered that the Chupa Chups website as a whole was a product ad, which included many elements clearly promoting HFSS products. However, even though the website had a “youthful character”, the ASA’s view was that it was not directly targeted at children either through its content or media. Although the website included an “age gate” which required young users to confirm they had permission before gaining access to the website content, the ASA expressed doubt as to whether age gates are an effective deterrent. Rather, since (a) the website design and content was not likely to appeal to under-16s more than over-16s, and (b) analytics data suggested that less than 25% of visitors to the Chupa Chups website were likely to be under 16, the conclusion was that the website did not breach the Code.

In reaching that decision, the ASA demonstrated its evidential flexibility: Perfetti’s demographics data showed that most visitors to both its influencers’ YouTube pages and its own Facebook page were over 18, and the ASA considered this was reflective of the “overall profile of Chupa Chups’ online audience”. On this basis, although no direct demographics data was available about the Chupa Chups website, the ASA were nevertheless prepared to infer from the other available data that it was unlikely that over 25% of Chupa Chups’ website visitors were under 16.

(b) and (c) – Facebook posts and video ads

The ASA considered that the Facebook posts and video ads all related to non-HFSS products (Chupa Chups’ sugar free lollipop range). This was the case even though these featured or resembled the main Chupa Chups brand, which is associated with HFSS products. Factors which contributed to finding that these ads were nevertheless not for HFSS products included:

  • clearly distinguishing the advertised non-HFSS products from the main HFSS product range with prominent words such as “sugar free
  • use of logos and images otherwise associated with HFSS products in a context which was specifically for advertising the non-HFSS product range
  • regular reference to, and exclusive display of, non-HFSS products, even where the overall HFSS brand was mentioned
  • deliberately drawing consumers’ attention to the packaging, flavours and benefits of the non-HFSS range, to the exclusion of the HFSS range with which the brand is otherwise associated.

Why is this important?

This ruling provides useful guidance on the ASA’s application of these Code rules relating to targeting children to advertise HFSS products. The ruling underlines that it is not illegal to advertise HFSS products, even where ads use characters or celebrities that are popular with children, and even where children are known to be amongst those ads’ audience. What is important is that those characters and celebrities are used, and HFSS products are promoted, “with a due sense of responsibility”, so that children are not directly targeted by the ads’ content or medium.

The ruling also suggests that the ASA are unlikely to find an HFSS product range is being advertised, even where the brand is otherwise “synonymous with a specific HFSS product”, where the ad’s clear and specific intention and content is focused on that brand’s non-HFSS product range.

Any practical tips?

Companies looking to advertise HFSS products should ensure that an ad’s use of characters and celebrities popular with children, as well as the ad’s selection of media for the ad and the context in which it appears, do not result in children being “targeted” by the ads.

When advertising HFSS products, companies are advised to:

  • avoid designs and celebrities which specifically appeal to children
  • use truly effective solutions for restricting young children’s access to content that promotes HFSS products, not solutions which are easily circumvented
  • avoid media and contexts which might effectively target children, bearing in mind the demographics of the ad’s viewers
  • ensure effective and appropriate demographics analytics are in place, with data which allows monitoring of age ranges to ensure children do not make up over 25% of viewers of HFSS ads.

This case also includes helpful pointers on how to advertise non-HFSS products which feature or resemble the core HFSS brand, such as clearly distinguishing the two and specifically calling out the packaging, flavours and benefits of the non-HFSS range.

Stay connected and subscribe to our latest insights and views 

Subscribe Here