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CAP announces 12 month review of rules on advertising HFSS products

Published on 09 August 2018

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has announced the terms of reference for its review of the rules introduced in 2017 on the advertising of food and soft drinks high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) in non-broadcast media.


CAP’s original HFSS rules were announced in December 2016 and came into force in July 2017.  The rules ban the inclusion of HFSS product advertising in children’s media and other media where children make up 25% or more of the audience.  The rules cover non-broadcast media environments, such as social media and TV-like services online and even extend to poster sites located near schools.  The rules also ban HFSS product adverts that target younger children by including licensed characters and celebrities that are popular with children.

The rules were introduced following extensive consultation with the public health community, the advertising industry and other key stakeholder groups in response to the concerns around children’s diets and the change in media habits brought about by the growth of online environments. 

CAP took the decision to bring its non-broadcast media rules into line with the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) rules for TV advertising, despite the fact that evidence suggests that advertising is likely to have no more than a modest direct effect on children’s immediate food preferences. 

Terms of reference

The review will begin on 1 July 2018, one year after CAP’s original HFSS rules came into force, with the aim of conclusions being published in the autumn. 

The review will assess:

  • compliance with the new rules by advertisers;
  • the success of regulators in amending or removing advertising in breach of the rules; and
  • the impact, both economic and otherwise, of the rules on children’s media and advertising.

The review will specifically include:

  • monitoring and assessment of media environments popular with children;
  • enforcement work to address identified problems;
  • analysis of Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) complaints data, rulings and enforcement actions;
  • analysis of ASA and Ofcom enforcement activity in relation to TV advertising for HFSS products, in order to determine the implications for non-broadcast advertising;
  • an invitation for and analysis of stakeholder submissions on the effectiveness of the rules; and
  • an invitation for and analysis of submissions from media owners and advertisers on the economic impact of the rules with specific reference to the impact assessment published in CAP’s public consultation document.

Why is this important?    

It’s clear that governments are increasingly targeting advertising of HFSS products as part of their wider battle against the impact of obesity on society.  For example, recently the Scottish Government has called for a ban of advertising HFSS products on TV before the watershed.  Many argue that this is a heavy-handed way of dealing with one aspect of the wider obesity problem, and could drastically impact on the media spend of some of the biggest advertisers in the country.  There are also wider repercussions for the media channels themselves (eg digital platforms).  Many are set up to put restrictions around, eg alcohol and betting adverts, but spotting HFSS products is much harder.  HFSS product advertising is quickly becoming one of the hottest topics in the advertising arena. 

Any practical tips?

Identifying brand advertising that has the effect of promoting an HFSS product is not always easy.  The ASA has provided a toolkit to assist with identifying whether the content described would likely be regarded as a HFSS product advertisement.  The toolkit, which includes various sources, is available here.