The United Kingdom (UK) is about to announce an embargo on junk food advertising online and before 9pm on TV. The ban is set to take effect in 2023 as Boris Johnson looks to confront the country’s obesity crisis.
The new measures will be some of the toughest marketing restrictions in the world. Experts say they will have significant consequences on the country’s burgeoning advertising industry.
A Big Pay Cut for UK Advertising
The UK food industry spends around $833 million on advertising each year. The ban on TV advertising will affect products which the government classifies as high in fat, salt, and sugar (HFSS). This alone will cost TV broadcasters around $278 million in annual revenues.
The online ad ban will affect all paid-for forms of digital marketing. This will include ads on Facebook to paid-search results on Google. The ban will also cover text message promotions and paid activity on social media sites like Instagram and Twitter.
Researchers estimate that food companies spend some $555 million advertising online in the UK annually.
Growing Health Issues
The tough new advertising guidelines come after Johnson changed his view on personal health decisions. The UK prime minister spent a week in hospital with coronavirus last year. Insiders say Johnson blames his own health issues for contributing to his illness. Overweight people are at greater risk of severe illness or death from Covid.
Meanwhile, research has found that one in three children leaving primary school in the UK are overweight or obese. In all, two out of every three adults in England are overweight.
Children under 16 in the UK were exposed to 1.5 billion junk food ads online in 2019. That is more than twice the 700 million ads of two years earlier.
What Do We Feed Our Kids?
However, the ban falls short of the total embargo the government proposed last year. The new restrictions include a considerable number of noteworthy exemptions.
The earlier proposal had caused an uproar in the UK advertising and broadcasting industries. Many in those sectors said the previous proposal was “indiscriminate and draconian.”
The exemptions include brand-only advertising online and on TV. This means companies associated with poor dietary habits will still will be able to advertise. That is, as long as no HFSS products appear in the advertisements.
Brands will also be allowed to continue to promote their products on their own websites and social media accounts.
The UK government’s previous definition of junk food would have included avocados, Marmite, and cream. The new ban will exclude such products.
Some Questionable Exemptions?
The ban will also exclude products not considered as traditional “junk food.” This classification covers honey, jam, zero-sugar drinks, and McDonald’s nuggets, which are not nutritionally deemed an HFSS product.
The ban likewise exempts companies with less than 250 employees. Companies that do not target consumers will still be allowed to advertise HFSS items, as well. Such companies sometimes conduct business-to-business advertising.
Junk food advertising will still be allowed through audio media, too. These include podcasts and radio.
There will be no new restrictions for the out-of-home sector. This includes advertisements on billboards, poster sites, advertising on buses, railway stations, and airports.
The UK government will review the list of products, and the ban itself, every few years.
Given that the obesity epidemic is global, it will be interesting to see how other nations react – especially the home of fast foods, the USA. There, according to the CDC, obesity levels in White and Hispanic adults are above 42% and 45% respectively while every second Black adult is obese.
The Tobacco Example…
In December, 1989, Australia banned all tobacco advertising. Both producers and the advertising industry screamed ‘blue murder’. At that time, tobacco ads dominated every form of media.
The new laws were challenged in every available jurisdictions without success. Dire warnings about civil liberties and ‘freedom of choice’ abounded.
Doubling down in 2012, the Australian government mandated ‘plain’ packaging for all tobacco products. The intend was to deny tobacco producers the ability to glorify smoking via peer imagery.
But 30 years later, the tobacco producers and advertisers have moved on to greener pickings – the former to third world countries and the latter to, amongst other vices, gambling and fast foods.
Meanwhile, over those same 30 years, smoking rates have dropped from 1 in every 4 adults to less than 1 in 8. Perhaps most importantly is the dramatic decline in the number of teens starting smoking.
If the new UK laws prove to be successful, expect other nations to follow suit. It may not stop us from over-eating, but it may mean we stuff ourselves on better foods!
What do you think?