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ASA New BCAP guidance on advertising of high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) products

Published on 25 September 2017

How can an HFSS product advertisement be differentiated from a brand advertisement (to which the HFSS restrictions do not apply)? And what is the approach of the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP)?

The background

On 8 December 2016, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) announced tough new rules banning the advertising of HFSS food or drink products in children's media.  The new rules are now applicable across all non-broadcast media, including in print, cinema and, more importantly, online and social media. The rules followed a full public consultation and research showing that youngsters aged 5 to 15 are spending approximately 15 hours per week online.  The introduction of the new rules is intended to help protect children's health and well-being.

The new CAP rules are briefly summarised as follows:

  • advertisements which directly or indirectly promote an HFSS product are not allowed to appear in any children's media

  • advertisements for HFSS products are not allowed to appear in other media where children make up over 25% of the audience

  • advertisements for HFSS products cannot use promotions, licensed characters and celebrities popular with children.

It is worth noting that the above restrictions do not apply to brand advertising that do not have the effect of promoting a specific HFSS product.  However, it is acknowledged that differentiating an HFSS product advertisement from a brand advertisement is not always easy.

The development

In view of the recent development of the CAP rules, the BCAP revised its “Guidance on identifying brand advertising that has the effect of promoting an HFSS product” (the Advertising Guidance) which came into effect alongside the new rules on 1 July 2017.

The Advertising Guidance set out various scenarios where it was difficult to distinguish between HFSS product advertisements and brand advertisements.

The scenarios

Product reference is an important factor to determine whether an ad amounts to an HFSS product advertisement.  If an ad refers to or prominently features an identifiable HFSS product, it is likely to be regarded as an HFSS product advertisement.

Where the information provided by a product advertisement is not sufficient for the audience to identify the product as one that can be nutrient profiled, the advertiser needs to satisfy the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that its range of that type of product is mainly non-HFSS (ie a range under which more than 50% of the products sold are categorised as non-HFSS under the nutrient profiling scheme) to avoid the HFSS restrictions.

The direct response mechanic contained in the advertisement (such as telephone numbers and interactive links) is another indicator.  An advertisement is unlikely to be regarded as an HFSS product advertisement if it does not contain any direct response mechanic relating to a specific HFSS product.

If an advertisement features a brand name which does not promote a specific HFSS product and the brand is synonymous with an identity other than the provision of HFSS products, it will not be considered an HFSS product advertisement.  In determining whether the brand is synonymous with the identity other than the provision of HFSS products, the ASA will take into account the company's provision of non-HFSS products or goods and services other than food and soft drink products, or its association with significant initiatives relating to education, sport, community etc.

However, if a brand advertisement features, say, a celebrity or a brand-generated character which is strongly associated with a specific HFSS product, it can still be subject to the HFSS restrictions.

Why is this important?

As organisations look to comply with the new rules, the Advertising Guidance provide a timely note on the factors that the ASA will take into account when deciding whether an ad is subject to the HFSS restrictions.  Those who are responsible for reviewing marketing materials should now have a better idea on how the ASA draws the line.

Any practical tips?

When reviewing materials for promotion of HFSS products, check through the restrictions imposed by the CAP Code (in particular, section 15) and BCAP Code (in particular, sections 13 and 32) as well as the Advertising Guidance.  However, bear in mind that the list of scenarios in the Advertising Guidance is not exhaustive and it is for the ASA to decide on a case-by-case basis whether an advertisement has the effect of promoting an HFSS product.

Always keep a check on all marketing materials, including those in social media (especially in platforms where youngsters make up a large portion of audience) to ensure that they comply with the CAP Code and the BCAP Code.