The Department of Health (DoH) has ordered a secret investigation of “junk food” advertising over fears that the restrictions introduced last year are not having a positive effect on children’s health.
Marketing Week has learnt that the DoH is working with media regulator Ofcom on a review of food advertising following the broadcast re≠strictions placed on foods high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) last year.
The Government department has commissioned Billetts Media Monitoring, the ad monitoring service owned by Thomson Intermedia, to carry out the review.
It is thought the department is concerned that although HFSS advertisers have kept to the rules governing where and when such advertising can run, they are flouting the “spirit” of the agreement. The investigation will look at the tonality of such advertising.
A source close to the investigation suggests that McDonald’s, which last month reported higher-than-expected second quarter results and the creation of 4,000 new UK jobs, is of particular concern. He questions whether the DoH is under some pressure to prove that the ad ban is having an effect on obesity levels, which it is unlikely to be able to do in the short term, and looking for a “scapegoat”.
Another insider close to the review says that the review includes McDonalds but is not “limited” to the fast food chain.
A spokesman for McDonald’s says that the chain’s advertising is in accordance with the regulations but it would “love to see the DoH’s definition of spirit and tone”.
Over the past year, a series of regulations on food advertising have been phased in. The curbs mean that
HFSS products cannot be advertised around children’s programmes, on children’s channels or around adult programmes that attract a high number of viewers aged 16 years old or under.