No more having your cake and eating it

08/12/2016
Blog posted by Christie Dennehy-Neil
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The IAB's Public Policy Manager, Christie Dennehy-Neil, comments on the back of the CAP decision to ban the advertising of high fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) food or drink products in children’s media.

No more having your cake and eating it. So said Richard Eyre, Chairman of IAB UK, at LEAD 2015, although not in those exact words (he’s far more eloquent!). 

In front of advertising’s leaders at the Advertising Association’s annual summit almost two years ago, Richard debunked the idea of an inherent tension between business and ethics: good ethics are good business, went his argument. Exploring some of the challenges facing the advertising industry, such as its role in child obesity, he highlighted the anomaly of on the one hand, extolling the effectiveness of advertising and on the other, arguing it makes no difference to children’s food and drink habits. ‘This is obviously b*ll*cks’, said the ever-eloquent Mr Eyre (15:58).

Advertising can only be one of many influences on behaviour – in any context. Experts are at least agreed that the problem of children’s excess weight and obesity is ‘multifaceted’ and that no one factor alone causes it, or can fix it. But advertising is nonetheless an influence – however small – and it’s one that is within our collective control, through the self-regulatory system. So, for the last year, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which IAB UK sits on, has been carefully considering how our industry should best exert its influence and play its part in wider efforts to address the societal problem of poor dietary health in children. 

We’ve decided we will not advertise ‘unhealthy’ food to children

CAP has today announced its decision to restrict ads for HFSS (high in fat, salt or sugar) products in online and other non-broadcast media: as from next July, such ads cannot be targeted at under 16s or placed in media likely to appeal to that age group. (Equivalent restrictions already apply to TV). 

Many advertisers are already committed not to advertise HFSS products to under-12s through voluntary initiatives (such as the EU pledge), but this move goes further, addressing a wider age group and making restrictions a part of the UK CAP Code that all marketers must abide by.

It’s a significant change and one that is the result of a great deal of time and effort, consideration and debate. It’s also an example of how the advertising industry can show itself to be – to quote Mr Eyre – ‘a part of society, not apart from it’. Clearly, advertising restrictions alone cannot solve the wider problem – far from it, but now we can be confident there’s one less factor that may be contributing to it.

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