Placing HFSS ads too close to schools

Published on 20 December 2018

How close is too close when advertising an HFSS ad near a school? And what falls under the meaning of school?


Under CAP 15.18 HFSS ads 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.

In a series of recent decisions, the ASA has looked at HFSS ads that have allegedly been placed too close to schools, and have arguably been targeting children. 

The decisions

  • McDonalds Ruling – this concerned two McDonalds HFSS ads which were placed by the media owner JCDecaux.  McDonalds had instructed JCDecaux not to place their ads within 200 meters of schools, in line with their policy.  One of the ads was mistakenly placed within 47 metres of a primary school and the other within 95 meters of a nursery.  Whilst JCDecaux admitted that the first ad had been mistakenly placed, they also provided evidence which estimated that the actual audience composition around where the ad was placed was around 21.84% under-16s (ie below the 25% benchmark).  The ASA rejected this argument, and concluded that McDonalds had violated the 100 metre rule, and as such the placement of the ad breached the CAP Code.  Regarding the ad placed near a nursery, the ASA concluded that this was not a breach as nurseries are not considered unsuitable to carry HFSS ads.  This follows the standard approach taken by the outdoor ad industry.

  • Burger King Ruling – this was a straight-forward application of the 100m rule concerning an ad, again placed by JCDecaux, within 96 metres of a primary school.  The complaint was upheld.

  • Subway Ruling - this concerned a Subway ad which promoted its “sub of the day” range, of which six out of seven were non-HFSS.  Notwithstanding that the range mainly consisted of non-HFSS products, the ASA nevertheless considered that because the poster featured an HFSS product it was considered to be an ad for HFSS products.  However, the complaint was ultimately not upheld by the ASA on the basis that sites located near to children’s centres (rather than primary/secondary schools) were not considered unsuitable to carry HFSS ads under the standard approach taken by the outdoor ad industry.

Why is this important?

The combined effect of these three rulings is that it is now very clear that the ASA will apply a 100m placement rule around schools strictly – even when there is data to suggest that the actual audience may well have been below 25% under-16s.  Interestingly, the rule only applies to primary and secondary schools and not to nurseries (see McDonalds ruling) or children’s centres (see Subway Ruling).  This may prove helpful in the context of other perceived “child friendly” locations (eg theme parks).

Any practical tips?

If an ad runs the risk of being classed as an HFSS ad do not place it within 100m of a school.  Caution should be used when promoting HFSS products near other areas popular with children.

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