NEWS12 May 2021

Ad industry opposes online junk food ad ban

News Public Sector UK Youth

UK – Advertising industry bodies have criticised government plans for a ban on high-fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) foods advertising online and 9pm watershed on television after the policy was included in the Queen’s speech.

Junk food

The Advertising Association (AA) and the Internet Advertising Bureau UK (IAB UK) have both heavily criticised the inclusion of the legislation in the Queen’s speech, which indicates the government’s legislative programme for the parliamentary session ahead.

A government consultation in November and December 2020 suggested removing all HFSS marketing communications from the internet that would be viewable to UK consumers. Separate proposals for a watershed for HFSS advertising were also announced last summer.

Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the AA, said the organisation was “dismayed” the bill was being introduced and warned of job losses in the advertising industry.

“The government’s own evidence shows that such measures will be ineffective in tackling obesity,” he said.

“The country needs balanced, consistent and well-evidenced policy interventions that will make a positive difference. The 9pm watershed and online ban will not reduce obesity levels, but will damage business and innovation and put jobs at risk.”

Jon Mew, chief executive of IAB UK, said an online advertising ban was not the solution to the complex problem of childhood obesity.

“The archaic action the government is taking disregards prevailing evidence relating to the causes of obesity and ignores smarter, digital-led solutions put forward by advertising’s regulatory body that could further limit children’s exposure to digital advertising in a proportionate and targeted way,” he said.

“In short, a ban is tokenistic, ill-considered policy that is entirely at odds with the government’s self-professed aim to establish the UK as a leader in digital and technological innovation.”

Mew added that the ban was not rooted in robust evidence, as it would only reduce children’s intake by 2.84 calories a day, and that previous attempts to restrict children’s access to HFSS advertising had done nothing to stop the rise in childhood obesity.

“Rather than resorting to draconian policy that will gravely impact the advertising sector, ad-funded media and hospitality sector at a vital time of recovery, we need to build on the progress already made with smarter, more sophisticated online advertising protections for children,” he said.

“The government has so far failed to make the case for a total online ban, and we urge it to reconsider the evidence-led solutions that can be delivered more quickly and effectively by the existing regulatory system.”

The Queen’s speech also included previously announced plans for an Online Harms Bill, which will attempt to tackle online racist abuse, uphold democratic debate online and try to prevent financial fraud on social media and dating apps.