As Ofcom announces the bringing forward of its review of the impact of recent new rules on the advertising of foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar and kids, it has published interim findings suggesting the rules might just be working. Anna Montes updates.
When: February 2008
Where: United Kingdom
Law stated as at: 25 February 2008
Few would have missed the package of new regulations introduced during 2007, aimed at regulating the advertising of food and drink products to children through both broadcast and non-broadcast media.
Back in 2003, concerns relating to the levels of child obesity within the United Kingdom led the Government to ask Ofcom to consider strengthening the rules applicable to such advertising. As Osborne Clarke reported through marketinglaw.co.uk during 2007, the new regulations introduced to govern television advertising came in various phases.
Phase 1 comprised of a total ban on advertisements relating to food and drinks high in fat, sugar or salt ("HFSS" products) in programmes aimed at children aged 4-9, or attracting disproportionately high child audiences, with certain transitional measures put in place for dedicated children's channels.
Restrictions were also introduced concerning advertising techniques to be used in new promotions that might make HFSS advertising attractive to children at other times.
Phase 2 then saw the ban extended to children aged 4-15, and HFSS advertising on children's channels scaled back to 50% of 2005's levels. Phase 3 (from January 2009) will consist of a ban of all HFSS advertising on dedicated children's channels.
Initial impact analysis
As one of the key drivers behind such regulations, Ofcom has kept a keen eye on their impact since their introduction. Ofcom has carried out some initial analysis regarding the effectiveness of the first phase of restrictions and at the end of 2007 it reported on a number of its findings to consumer, health and industry representatives at a briefing in December 2007.
Other stakeholders have since also requested further information from Ofcom as to its findings and so Ofcom has now published the available data. The data and statistics presented by Ofcom can be accessed via http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/tv/reports/update/briefing.pdf. Whilst stressing that it believes it is still too early to come to any firm conclusions about the success of the new HFSS food advertising rules, Ofcom believes that there are clear indications that the restrictions are having the required effect on reducing the amount of food and drink advertising that children are exposed to on television.
In a nutshell, the data collected by Ofcom has revealed that:
- the amount of HFSS advertising children see on television has declined in line with Ofcom's predicted forecasts;
- television share of total core category advertising spend has fallen from 68% to 64% since 2005;
- the greatest decline in impacts (meaning each occasion when a viewer sees an advert) has been in relation to children aged 4-9 years (down 27% since 2005);
- 4-15 year olds impacts on television fell by 20% between April and September 2005 and the corresponding period in 2007 (Ofcom explains that this was driven by a 59% decline in impacts delivered during children's airtime, most of which (53%) has taken place between 2006 and 2007, since the rules were introduced);
- core category advertising on terrestrial children's programming has fallen to negligible levels, and is declining markedly on dedicated children's channels;
- impacts on dedicated children's channels fell by 49% from 2005 to 2007; and
- within that overall reduction, there has been an increase in 4-15 core category impacts in "adult" non-terrestrial airtime (up 26% since 2005), leading to an overall 2% increase in impacts delivered across all adult airtime.
Full review commitments
Ofcom has committed to conduct a full review of the HFSS food advertising regulations during 2008 to assess how well the new advertising restrictions are working in practice. When conducting such a review (which at the time of writing is estimated to commence in July 2008).
Interestingly, about the same time, the FSA shall be undertaking its own review into the success of its nutrient profile model. This is the model used in the broadcast rules to assess when a product is a HFSS product. As part of its impending review, Ofcom will not be going as far as to assess the effect of the regulations on child obesity – it shall be assessing whether the restrictions are working as intended.
The review will therefore consider what the current trends are so far as HFSS advertising in adult airtime before 9pm is concerned and what effect these trends are having on children's potential exposure to HFSS advertising. Ofcom will also look at the distribution of HFSS advertising across different types of advertising channels.
In particular, Ofcom has indicated that as part of its review, it will be assessing the following:
- whether scheduling restrictions are achieving the objective of reducing significantly the number of HFSS product advertising impacts among children aged 4-15 years;
- whether the impact on broadcasters has been broadly consistent with the effects both Ofcom and the broadcasters expected;
- if scheduling restrictions and revised content rules are being implemented as intended, or whether unexpected difficulties have emerged in interpretation, implementation and enforcement;
- if advertisers are seeking to evade the spirit of the restrictions, by airing advertising and sponsorship in the names of brands commonly associated with HFSS products in children's airtime; and
- whether advertisers have significantly increased the amount of HFSS advertising and sponsorship in periods outside children's airtime, at times when significant numbers of children may be watching.
Why this matters:
All current indicators are The advertising industry and manufacturers of affected HFSS food and drink products will have to wait until Autumn 2008 at the earliest to see what the outcome of Ofcom's review is before it is known whether we could see a tightening of any of the new restrictions. If advertisers have been seeking to evade the spirit of the restrictions by taking advantage of any exceptions (such as those relating to general brand advertising) then it could be that we do indeed see loopholes being tightened.
Advertisers would also be well advised to keep half an eye on the FSA's investigations also. The FSA has commissioned an independent panel to review its nutrient profiling model and if the FSA decides that changes should be made to such a model, Ofcom would then need to consider whether corresponding changes should be made to the model used to identify HFSS products within the advertising restrictions. Any FSA amendments could therefore ripple through to the advertising regulations.
Watch this space……….