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Why HFSS marketing needs to change


Laura Kelly, Legal & Regulatory Advisor at the IPM, explains why changes to the CAP Code, the rules governing advertising and marketing in the UK, had to happen and the opportunities they offer to the promotions industry

The advertising and marketing industry is famed for many things; bringing to life brands, creating a huge economic impact, making us laugh or cry, making brands memorable. Marketing communications work – what we do has the power to influence people.

With great power, as always, comes great responsibility, a fact which the UK’s marketers have long realised. That’s why we have the CAP Code and the ASA to uphold it at the heart of a self-regulatory system which is recognised internationally as world class.

Our industry is constantly changing – take the way, over the past 20 years, that digital technology has completely revolutionised the way brands talk to consumers and made marketing, in some ways, far more powerful. Society changes as well – few of us do as much hard manual work as our grandparents did or get as much exercise.

As a result, our waistlines are expanding – and the particular worry is how our children are being affected. Obesity levels amongst the young are increasing.

Increased concern about obesity has led to a focus on advertising and marketing of calorie-rich food and drink, and there has been a keen interest in how we promote certain HFSS (High, Fat, Salt and Sugar) brands to children and families. We have seen accusations levelled at the marketing industry that what we do is making us fat and damaging our health.

Late in 2015, the Government launched its soft drinks taxation promise to help address the growing concern about obesity, centered on the high sugar intake of children. The Government promised the UK public that it would tackle the brands responsible.

Several months and many consultations later, the efforts of CAP, the Advertising Association and many other interested parties (including the IPM) have managed to prove that advertising does not in fact contribute in any significant way to the increase in obesity levels in children – other factors such as parental influence and the switch from physical activity to playing computer games bear far more responsibility.

However, the advertising and marketing industry recognises that there is much more it can do to help. To begin with, the industry decided to tackle at source the rules that govern the work we do.

The IPM, as part of the self-regulatory framework that governs UK broadcast and non-broadcast rules, was a key member of the consultation groups to examine the areas of critical understanding in children when looking at the effects of advertising and marketing messaging.

The outcome of this work has seen a CAP Code change that signals a huge change in the way brands can promote to under 16s and under 12s.

As a reminder:

  • Ads that directly or indirectly promote an HFSS product cannot appear in children’s media;
  • Ads for HFSS products cannot appear in other media where children make up over 25% of the audience;
  • Ads for HFSS products will not be allowed to use promotions, licensed characters and celebrities popular with children. Advertisers may, however, now use those techniques to better promote healthier options;
  • The Department of Health nutrient profiling model will be used to classify which products are HFSS.

Creating a future for responsible promotion

At the IPM, over the past two years we have seen a shift towards more responsible promotion across the board, particularly FMCG brands. Being involved in this consultation has shown that the entire industry embraces this forward thinking approach and we are delighted to support the changes at the IPM.

These changes also bring opportunity. Restrictions on using promotions, licenced characters and celebrities in food ads directed at children have been loosened. They will now be permitted in ads for all non HFSS foods, giving marketers powerful new techniques to better promote healthier options.

With such a positive change happening across the industry, we can truly say we are part of the solution and not the problem. For a time, we were at real risk of losing our right to self-regulate and the IPM supports the new rules every step of the way.

The IPM will actively promote the rule changes from now on, so that brand owners are ready and able to implement media and promotional changes in advance of the new rules coming into effect.

Laura Kelly is Legal & Regulatory Advisor at the Institute of Promotional Marketing (IPM), advising marketers at client companies, agencies and suppliers on how to ensure that their promotional marketing activities are legal and that they conform to the CAP Code, the rules which marketing and advertising in the UK must follow under the country’s self regulatory system.

The IPM is holding a special webinar on Wednedsay 15th December in partnership with the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) to explain the changes to the CAP Code on HFSS food and drink marketing. Places are free and you can book your place here.



































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