Coco’s revenge – ASA reverses Kellogg’s HFSS decision
Can a brand-generated character known for advertising HFSS products be used to promote a non-HFSS product to children?
A TV ad for Coco Pops Granola was shown during a children’s programme on 3 January 2018. A pack of Coco Pops Granola, a bowl and a jug of milk were shown in the foreground. Small on-screen text shown throughout most of the ad stated “Enjoy as part of a healthy diet and active lifestyle, 45g of Coco Pops Granola = 9% RI for sugar”.
The Obesity Health Alliance challenged whether the ad was for HFSS products that were targeted to appeal to audiences below the age of 16.
The ASA Council originally ruled that the focus of the ad was the general Coco Pops branding (by virtue of the audio logo, the dominant Coco Pops brand name, the use of Coco the monkey, the yellow colour etc) and these elements were significantly more prominent than the references to the granola product. Kellogg’s challenged the ASA’s decision.
Kellogg’s confirmed that the product featured was not an HFSS product. The product was consistently referenced throughout the ad, and at no point was there a reference to the Coco Pops brand in isolation or to any other product in their range. Furthermore, they said that the ad was clearly distinguishable from other products in their range, and that as such there would be no confusion that the ad was only promoting the Coco Pops Granola.
Kellogg’s highlighted that CAP’s HFSS Guidance recognised that ads for non-HFSS products may use a brand-generated character or branding synonymous with a specific HFSS product, and that it also recognised the power of such brands to promote healthy alternatives to HFSS products. Kellogg’s argued that if the ASA was to find that the ad had the effect of promoting an HFSS product it would reduce take-up of the granola product, which would be inconsistent with the Government’s objectives on tackling unhealthy eating, and would discourage advertisers from developing healthier product alternatives.
Furthermore, Clearcast had approved the ad as the granola product was very prominent and not incidental to the branding. This meant that both parents and children would be able to tell the difference between the advertised granola product and Coco Pops original cereal.
In a reversal of the ASA Council’s earlier decision (8 August 2018), the complaint was not upheld.
The ASA noted that the ad did not feature any HFSS products. However, the ASA had to consider whether the ad had the effect of promoting an HFSS product through the use of branding.
Coco the Monkey is a well-established brand character with the Coco Pops range; as such, the ASA considered it was therefore incumbent on Kellogg’s to take careful steps to ensure that, if ads for non-HFSS products in the range were directed at children, they did not have the effect of promoting Coco Pops original cereal or other HFSS products in the range.
The ASA concluded that Coco Pops Granola was the focus of the ad throughout, including through the use of close-up shots of the product and the product pack (both of which were of a different appearance to other products in the range), and two references to “Coco Pops Granola” in the voice-over, including once by Coco. The brand name “Coco Pops” was also not used on its own. Although the ad drew attention to the milk “turning chocolatey”, which was a phrase used in ads in relation to Coco Pops original cereal and other HFSS products in the range. However, given that it was self-evident that the Granola product had the same effect on milk, the ASA considered its inclusion did not give greater prominence to the Coco Pops range branding generally than to the Granola product itself.
Therefore, it would be clear to both adult and child viewers that the product being advertised was Coco Pops Granola. Hence why the ASA ultimately determined that the ad was not an HFSS product ad for the purposes of the Code. It was therefore not subject to the restrictions prohibiting HFSS product ads from being shown around children’s programming.
Why is this important?
The decision is a welcome reversal of the previous ASA decision. The latter had caused quite a stir in the food and drink market, as it had effectively meant that any brand known as a HFSS product or range could have struggled to be used for a non-HFSS product as well.
Any practical tips
It is important to note that Kellogg had to make it clear in the ad that it was only promoting a non-HFSS product. If the ad had featured the Coco Pops brand in isolation and/or not featured the granola product as prominently, then the ASA’s decision might well have stood. It follows that care still remains the watchword for all non-HFSS advertising which uses elements of HFSS branding.