22 Dec 2020

The BDA is broadly in favour of restricting online advertising of High Fat, Sugar and Salt foods, especially to children. We agree with the government’s assessment that it is important that advertising regulations recognise the changing advertising landscape, and in particular children’s media consumption habits. The relatively recent example of the emerging success of Government intervention regarding the sugar content of soft drinks, supports how appropriate Government intervention can assist consumers in making healthier choices.

Current regulations for online advertising of HFSS foods are failing to provide adequate protection. There are significant loopholes opened up via the 25% audience threshold exemption that continue to expose children. In June-September 2020, surveillance of just 50 websites likely to be visited by children conducted by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found 102 HFSS food advertisements from 35 different companies, including on 24 children’s websites. The ASA’s research using child mimicking avatars also provides strong evidence that the targeting methods designed to prevent children seeing such adverts is not effective[1].

However, we also recognise that this is a much more complex landscape than broadcast, print or other more conventional forms of advertising. Determining who is viewing any given piece of advertising, how many and when they are doing so is more difficult. Social media encourages the sharing of content which means that the audience for something that may be defined as advertising is outside the control of those who originally created it.

Equally, the low cost of entry and self-directed nature of online advertising means that there will be far more actors in this environment, who may not have the necessary skills, time or resources to undertake the necessary evaluation or understand the scale of regulation compared to larger companies more used to dealing with the complexity of broadcast advertising for example. As the BDA has stipulated in responses to other consultations on areas such as Front of Pack Nutrition Labelling[2], guidance on sourcing and presenting nutrition information for industry and especially the online sector is sorely needed.

The BDA does not believe there is value in putting in place a regulatory framework that is either unenforceable or is not enforced consistently. As we cover in later questions, this system must have teeth.

To read the rest of our consultation response download the pdf below. 

Consultation Document