Who: Transport for London (TfL ) and Farmdrop Limited (Farmdrop)
Where: United Kingdom
When: March 2019
Law stated as at: 29 March 2019
Farmdrop, an online farm-to-table food delivery company, had proposed an ad for the London Underground showing a family gathered around a kitchen counter full of Farmdrop’s product range. The ad showed fruit, vegetables, bread, drinks and other products, including bacon, butter and jam.
However, TfL’s advertising policy, which was amended on 25 February 2019 with the aim of banning all ‘junk food’ advertising across its network, states that ads which promote (directly or indirectly) foods which are high in fat, salt and/or sugar (HFSS) are prohibited. This includes incidental images of HFSS products within a range of non-HFSS foods.
As a result of this, Farmdrop could either: apply for an exemption to the policy, which would require proving that the products shown do not contribute to HFSS diets among children (as found in Appendix A of the policy); or amend their ad copy so it did not to include any HFSS foods. Farmdrop chose the latter.
Farmdrop has expressed disappointment with TfL’s policy, arguing that its ad featured a mix of balanced wholefoods, which was important to show that the brand was more than just a “vegetable box” scheme. Further, it highlighted that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) adopted the same healthy food standards as TfL yet held last year that a McDonald’s Happy Meal was not a junk food product because 80% of the mains and 100% of the sides were non-HFSS.
Why this matters
The decision highlights the extent to which some advertisers will have to consider the use of HFSS foods in ad campaigns and the attention to detail required. Even when attempting to demonstrate a range of products, when an advert is for a medium controlled by TfL, advertisers must ensure that they have considered the potential restrictions on the depiction of HFSS foods, even in an incidental manner.
The decision also serves as a reminder that TfL’s position on HFSS foods is more strict that the ASA’s approach. As a result of this, advertisers may wish to run different versions of an ad depending on the platform that the ad will feature on.