Stricter rules on junk food ads show power of self regulation

The new rules on junk food advertising should be the minimum for brands if the ad industry is to maintain trust among the British public.

The ad regulator has just introduced some of the strictest rules in the world on advertising junk food to children.

From next July, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has decided that non-broadcast rules should be brought in line with broadcast, meaning advertisers will not be allowed to target food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) at under-16s in print, cinema, online and social media activity.

The move follows a decision by the Government not to introduce stricter rules on HFSS advertising to children in its obesity report. That led to outcry from campaigners concerned at the growing economic, cultural and societal cost of obesity, particularly among children.

READ MORE: The Government’s childhood obesity strategy – Good or bad news for marketers?

What CAP has shown is that self regulation works. Advertising is not one of the major causes of obesity, but every little helps. Here the industry can make a small change that shows it is listening to the concerns of consumers, parents and campaigners.

Speaking at the Advertising Association’s Parliamentary Reception last night, its chairman Andy Duncan said: “This is a brilliant example of self regulation at its best.

“Actually we sat down a couple of years ago and said if we are going to run the ad industry responsibly, we have to raise our own bar, stay in touch with society and actually be accountable to parliament and citizens of the country. It is no longer enough to be honest, truthful, decent. As expectations in society go up we have to match that. And if we can’t do that through self regulation, in the end we will lose the right so self regulate.”

He has a point. According to figures from Nielsen last year, trust in advertising in the UK is falling. The survey found that most forms of advertising and communication – including newspaper, radio and TV, as well as editorial content and email – had all seen trust erode.

This is a brilliant example of self regulation at its best.

Andy Duncan, Advertising Association

If the industry is to reverse that trend it must show it understands consumer concerns and is ahead of the curve in terms of regulation.

The latest rules are to be welcomed, but there is still more to do. Campaigners such as Jamie Oliver and the Children’s Food Campaign remain critical of the fact that a “loophole” means brands can still advertise HFSS food and drink in family programming such as the X Factor. Here, brands are exempt because children do not make up more than 25% of the audience, despite the fact that they are among the most popular programmes among the under-16s.

The latest rules may be among the strictest in the world, but more can still be done to show that the UK ad industry is industry-leading when it comes to listening to society’s concerns and acting on them.