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Cadbury’s Freddo advert banned for encouraging children to eat chocolate

Published on 08 April 2019

When is an HFSS ad aimed at children? And is age-gating enough? Or is it the ad’s content which really counts?

The background

Cadbury ran a series of adverts for its Freddo chocolate bar in July 2018 including:

  • a poster advert featuring a cartoon image of Freddo the Frog, located at a bus stop close to a primary school
  • Cadbury’s webpage “www.cadbury.co.uk/freddo” which featured Cadbury branding and images of Cadbury chocolate products.

Cadbury’s website required users to enter their details, including a date of birth, and stated users must be over 16.  The home page included information about Freddo related activities, downloads and promotions for children.  The page included cartoon icons of Freddo which clicked through to a download of a comic book and audiobook, or through to an activities page. 

The webpage “www.cadbury.co.uk/freddo” also featured a promotions webpage which could be clicked through to.  This page included an over 18 age verification process, and when this was satisfied, linked to a page with images of many Cadbury chocolate products.  The page also featured a promotion stating “WIN BIG ADVENTURES WITH FREDDO & FRIENDS There are 1000s of fun-filled adventures to be won, from Go Ape to Legoland.  Have a look at all the amazing prizes here”.  To enter, you had to buy any participating chocolate bar and enter the barcode on the back of the package. 

Cadbury also ran two YouTube videos on its own channel:

  • one titled “Freddo meet Freddo – UK” showing a Freddo cartoon interacting with a chocolate biscuit and a caption stating “NEW Freddo Biscuits are spinning into the biscuit aisle.Crunchy biscuit dipped in delicious milk chocolate… Freddo meet Freddo!
  • a second video titled “The Missing Hop”.The video featured Freddo, and a voice-over which stated, “Deep in the heart of the jungle evil casts a shadow over good, and only one frog can save the day.It’s Freddo! He’s brave.He’s quick.He’s a good friend.Freddo and the Missing Hop”.On-screen text stated “PARENTS, SEARCH ‘MISSING HOP’ FOR THE FULL ADVENTURE www.cadbury.co.uk/freddo”.

Two complainants challenged whether the poster, the “www.cadbury.co.uk/freddo” webpage, the promotional webpage, the downloadable comic book and audiobook and the two YouTube videos were ads for products that were high in fat, salt or sugar that were directed at children.  They also challenged whether the promotional website linking from “www.cadbury.co.uk/freddo” was an ad for HFSS products which was targeted directly at pre-school and primary-school children, and included a promotional offer. 

Cadbury stated the poster was mistakenly placed close to a school due to an error by the owner of the poster site, and this was acknowledged by the owner.  Cadbury stated their webpages were corporate websites to provide information about products and promotions, not being aimed at children.  Cadbury stated they took steps to ensure children were unable to access the website by requiring age verification. 

Cadbury also stated that in the comic book and audio book, no reference to Cadbury branding, Freddo or chocolate products were made.  Cadbury said no elements of the YouTube videos were directly targeted at children.  For the promotion, Cadbury noted participants had to be 18 or older to be eligible. 

The decision

The complaints were upheld in relation to the poster ad, the webpage “www.cadbury.co.uk/freddo”, the downloadable comic book and the downloadable audio book only. 

The poster ad featured an image of a Freddo chocolate bar, and was located within 100 metres of a school.  The ASA therefore concluded that the audience of the ad was significantly skewed towards under-16s.  Therefore the ad breached the Code as HFSS product ads are not to be directed at children. 

As the Cadbury Freddo website featured a cartoon image of Freddo the Frog, the Cadbury logo and distinct purple background as well as a Freddo-branded activities page, these were likely to be familiar to young children and because branding associated with a mainly HFSS product range, the website was an HFSS product ad.  The ASA noted that age gates are not necessarily a deterrent to children and the content was designed to be engaged with by children.  The ASA therefore considered it to be directed at children and constituted a breach of the Code. 

The promotional webpage was considered an HFSS product ad due to its use of chocolate products.  However, the age gate and the tone of the competition instructions, along with the fact that under-18s could not enter, led the ASA to deem that it was aimed at parents and not children. 

The audiobook and comic books contained the words ‘Freddo’ and ‘Freddo the Frog’, which were likely to be familiar to children in the context of chocolate.  The cartoon image of Freddo was also similar enough to the usual image on the HFSS products so as to be associated with the chocolate bar.  Therefore, the books were an HFSS product ad.  As children may engage with the books in the presence of, or under the supervision of parents, both were specifically created as content for children under 16 years of age and would be given to children, therefore they breached the Code. 

As the YouTube videos used the Cadbury Freddo branding and featured an HFSS product, they were HFSS product ads.  The demographic data of Cadbury’s YouTube subscribers was that less than 25% were registered under-18.  Whilst users can watch the videos without being logged in or subscribed, the ASA ruled that by taking into account the available data, the ads were not targeted at children. 

On the second challenge, whilst some imagery on the promotional page was of HFSS products, the tone used was appealing to adults as well as children and the wording used was directed at adults.  It followed that the ad was not deemed to have directly targeted pre-school or primary children.

Why is this important?

This decision provides useful clarity (and lots of examples) of what the ASA will and will not consider to be an HFSS ad targeted at children.  For example, the ASA determined that, despite including an age-gate, much of the content on Cadbury’s website was aimed at or designed for children and so still constituted a breach of the Code.

Any practical tips?

Don’t rely on age-gating! Depending on the content, an ad may still be seen to be targeted at children. 

From a wider perspective, this decision is a helpful guide for anyone running HFSS ads (marketing teams included), and should help encourage deeper consideration of the light in which they will be seen, who their target audience really is and where they will be run.