Ofcom has found Domino’s sponsorship of The Simpsons in breach of regulations regarding promotion of foodstuffs high in fat, salt and sugar.
Ofcom was contacted by the National Heart Forum (NHF) after the body monitored reports that Domino’s sponsorship of the Sky One TV show appeared to be avoiding the HFSS restrictions by simply not showing the pizza product in the programme credits.
When the HFSS regulations were drawn up in 2005 a concern was raised that brand advertising and sponsorship was a potential loophole.
The NHF claimed that the sponsorship credits “show everything to promote pizzas except the finished product: from the preparation and packaging to the anticipated delivery of a dial-up pizza” and that the company was “failing to observe the spirit as well as the letter of the rules”. The Simpsons is broadcast between 7 pm and 9 pm in “peak viewing hours for children”, according to NHF.
Ofcom examined the four episodes of the Sky show broadcast on 30 January transmitted back to back and found the total 16 sponsorship credits consisted of “a loose narrative” showing two men watching TV, ordering a pizza and representations of a pizza being made and despatched. The closing frame of each credit contained the words “Domino’s Delivery Service” and the order telephone number.
BSkyB argued that the credits did not breach the rules and that The Simpsons “does not seek to exclusively target children” and that adults comprise 72 per cent of a typical show’s audience. It added that none of the credits showed an HFSS product and that they promoted a pizza delivery service “with minimal references to the actual food being sold”.
However, Ofcom stated that in the first quarter of 2008 the actual audience under 16 for The Simpsons was 81 per cent higher that the average expected for a multi-channel audience and so advertising in or around the programme was subject to the rules on HFSS products.
It added that it was clear the sponsorship credits promoted more than a brand name.
The watchdog also questioned whether Sky had provided enough evidence that the pizzas were “mainly” non-HFSS.
Domino’s ended its sponsorship of the programme at the end of last year.
A Sky spokesperson says: “Domino’s enjoyed a 10 year relationship with The Simpsons, making it one of the longest running show sponsorships in UK TV history. Throughout that time, both companies sought to adhere to best practice guidelines, particularly when HFSS legislation was introduced during the latter stages of the sponsorship.Therefore whilst we accept Ofcom’s decision, we still believe that Domino’s was promoting a delivery service and not specific food products that breached HFSS guidelines.”