Toy or food product? Healthy or HFSS? The ASA rules on the ‘Banana Surprise’.
Who: Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA“) and Character Options Ltd t/a Character
When: 19 October 2016
Law stated as at: 15 November 2016
The ad and complaint
An ad promoting the ‘Banana Surprise’ was shown during the CITV slot on ITV1. The ad starred a girl and a boy dressed as explorers and a cartoon monkey. The children excitedly used the product and showed bananas filled with different sauces, while the voiceover stated “Make yummy banana treats, with Banana Surprise. Simply cut your banana, then remove the core. Now fill your banana with your favourite flavours”. The onscreen text stated “foodstuffs not included”. At the end of the ad, the monkey playfully stole the boy’s banana before the girl handed another one to him. The children and an adult (also dressed up as an explorer) then ate their filled bananas.
Sustain challenged whether the ad was irresponsible on the basis that the ad encouraged children to consume foods high in fat, sugar or salt (“HFSS“).
Character explained that the ads showed bananas filled with strawberry puree and strawberry flavoured yoghurt. Character believed that, as no food was supplied with the product, it was a parent or guardian’s decision to provide children with appropriate fillings. In addition, Character claimed that the ad was intended to encourage children to eat a healthy food, namely a banana, which they may not have eaten without the product.
Clearcast stated that the product itself is not food and the ad did not promote any particular ingredients to fill the banana with. In addition, there was fresh fruit surrounding the children in the ad. Therefore, Clearcast felt that the ad did not need to be scheduled in accordance with HFSS related restrictions and the ad was not irresponsible and did not promote unhealthy eating habits.
The ASA noted that the content of the ad particularly appealed to children; the fillings could be interpreted as HFSS foods and it was irresponsible to promote HFSS products to children. However, the advertised product was being marketed as a toy and was not a food product. The ASA held that the ad focused on the mechanics of the product rather than the fillings and there was not an overall impression that the product should be used with HFSS filling. Therefore, the ad was not irresponsible and the complaint was not upheld.
Why this matters:
The ruling is unsurprising as it clearly applies the BCAP guidance on HFSS products, which provides that where “an advertisement neither refers to nor prominently features an identifiable HFSS product” is “unlikely to be regarded as an ad for an HFSS product“.
Nonetheless, the ruling is still interesting as it is the first ruling since CAP’s consultation into food and soft drink advertising to children and shows that, for now, the position has not changed.
In addition, the ruling placed weight on the fact that the ad was for a product being marketed as a toy rather than food. If there are any future complaints about ads featuring food related toys, it will be interesting to see whether the ASA uses this as a consideration when the food in question is more likely to be deemed HFSS.