Today the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) announced that they are launching a full public consultation regarding the introduction of new rules on the advertising of food and soft drink products to children in non-broadcast media, including online. The much anticipated announcement comes in response to widely publicised concerns around childhood obesity and, according to CAP, the need to ensure that advertising rules reflect changing media habits amongst young people. 

CAP’s main proposals are to:

  • introduce a new rule to the CAP Code to limit where advertising for food and soft drink products high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS products) can be placed in all non-broadcast media, including traditional and online media;
  • explore through consultation whether the new rule should prohibit HFSS product advertising in media targeted at or of particular appeal to children under 12 or under 16; and
  • apply the existing rules prohibiting the use of promotions and licensed characters and celebrities popular with children to HFSS product advertising only, allowing more creative ways for healthier foods to be advertised to children.

CAP says they are simply hoping that the consultation will lead to them gaining insight from a range of consultant responses but it is difficult to see that the consultation will result in anything but a tightening of the rules. 

CAP also state that their focus on non-broadcasting rules is informed by the growth in the popularity of the internet, with Ofcom research showing that in 2015, 96% of 12 to 15 year-olds spent more time online than watching TV. 

Under the consultation CAP have also proposed a new rule prohibiting the placement of HFSS product advertising in “media targeted at or likely to appeal particularly to children”. The new rule would:

  • Apply to advertising in media where more than 25% of the audience are understood to be under 12 or, subject to the outcome of the consultation, under 16;
  • Prohibit brand advertising that has the effect of promoting an HFSS product, mirroring present guidance used for TV advertising;
  • Cover advertising in all non-broadcast media within the remit of the CAP Code, including online advertising; and
  • Use the Department of Health nutrient profiling model – used for TV advertising – to identify HFSS products.

The consultation comes in the wider context of calls to address the UK’s growing obesity crisis. In March, the UK Government announced plans to launch a sugar tax and are also still debating the proposed the Sugar in Food and Drinks (Targets, Labelling and Advertising) Bill proposed by Geraint Davies which, among other measures, has proposed displaying the amount of sugar in food and drink products in teaspoons. Possibly somewhat surprisingly to some, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has immediately come out in support of some changes to the Code, including in ensuring that ads for HFSS products are not targeted at under-16s in any medium, including online.  

With the Government’s strategy for regulation yet to be confirmed, the FDF’s response to CAP’s consultation is illustrative of a number of major players within the food and drink industry taking a more proactive approach to the obesity crisis. 

The consultation closes on 22 July 2016.