This week, after years and year of proposals and back and forth, the UK government has outlined plans to introduce a ban on junk food advertising across TV and online prior to the 9pm watershed.
From a personal and certainly not commercial point of view, I am in full agreement with this. One of the key things for me as someone who is firmly in the ‘healthy foods’ camp, junk food advertising offers impressionable minds a lifestyle choice. Junk food has been made ‘desirable’, it’s designed to keep us wanting more. That desire can over time, if not controlled lead as it has done to high levels of obesity.
Cancer Research UK, conducted extensive research and found that almost half of all food adverts shown on ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky One are for products that are high in fat, sugar and salt. Between 6pm and 9pm, a key time when children view TV, these ads rose to almost 60% of the ads that were shown.
Think about it, if you’re bombarded with junk food ads over and over again, it’s going normalise bad diets and provoke cravings for unhealthy food.
While campaigners have been pushing hard for this for a long time. I believe that COVID-19 has impacted this decision quite drastically. Nearly 8% of critically ill patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units have been morbidly obese, compared with 2.9% of the general population. Therefore, Boris Johnson and the health secretary, Matt Hancock, have highlighted that tackling obesity was a new front in the fight against coronavirus, warning that excess weight put victims at risk of more severe illness and death.
So what do these plans to tackle obesity in the advertising world look like?
The Government has:
- banned ‘Buy one get one free’ deals on unhealthy food.
- imposed restrictions on where high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) products can be promoted in store, including a ban on chocolates, crisps and sweets being sold at the checkout.
- stated that from now on restaurants, cafes or takeaway chains with more than 250 employees will be required to label the calories of their meals on the menu.
- begun a consideration into whether or not they should outlaw HFSS adverts online altogether as well.
It’s important to note here, that many including Professor Andrew Goddard, the president of the Royal College of Physicians feel that this approach places more emphasis on personal choice rather than also factoring in “the result of biological, genetic and social factors”. Therefore while I am wholly onboard with the banning of these ads from the point of view of tackling obesity, there has to be reform in terms of inequalities in relation to education and care given by the state in more needy areas. So while banning ads makes sense, it can’t be the only measure.
What does this look like commercially though?
The junk food advertising market is huge, a simple example is McDonald’s Who Spent Over $52 Million on TV Advertising in November 2018, when it wanted to maximise exposure during the American football season. (While this ban is in the UK, this does highlight the huge volumes spent to promote junk food products).
And then you’ve got the TfL, who lost out on £25 million of revenue when Sadiq Khan introduced the junk food advertising ban on TfL’s networks.
There is going to be a massive impact on revenue, The Drum suggests that British broadcasters could miss out on £200 million worth of revenue from this ban.
I highly recommend that you read this article from The Drum: https://www.thedrum.com/news/2020/07/29/uk-junk-food-ad-ban-iab-advertising-association-and-action-sugar-debate-proposals – it highlights the perceived impact by banning these ads: Sue Eustace, director of public affairs at the Advertising Association highlighted that the government’s impact assessment which earlier this year claimed that introducing a pre-9pm watershed ban would only lessen children’s calorie intake by 1.7 calories a day. “Considering the wide impact that that will have on broadcasting, production and the creative industries in general, and the jobs at stake, we question whether this is a sensible and proportionate measure.
The question I now ask is this; from an emotional perspective banning junk food ads appears to be the right thing to do however from the perspective of actual impact, how beneficial will this measure be? Are we going to be forsaking jobs here in a time when we really should be strengthening them?