Ofcom update on TV advertising of HFSS products to children

United Kingdom

In February 2007, after conducting a public consultation, Ofcom launched a package of rules to restrict the television advertising of high fat, salt and sugar (“HFSS”) food and drink products to children. These restrictions were due to be implemented in three phases: Phase 1 (ban on advertising HFSS products in programmes aimed at 4 – 9 year olds) commenced in April 2007; Phase 2 (extension of ban to programmes aimed at 9 – 15 year olds, and scaling back of HFSS advertising to 50% of 2005 levels) commenced in January 2008; and Phase 3 (complete ban on all HFSS advertising on children’s channels) is due to commence in January 2009.

There had been widespread calls for a ban on advertising of HFSS food and drink products before the 9pm watershed. However, no doubt to the relief of many brand owners, Ofcom had taken the view that such a ban would have a "disproportionate" effect on the industry.

In December 2007, Ofcom issued an update summarising their initial analysis of the effectiveness of Phase 1 of the restrictions. Following requests by stakeholders for additional information, Ofcom published a further update last week.

The February 2008 update indicates that, on the basis of the interim data available summarising the impact of the first six months of Phase 1 of the restrictions, the new rules appear to be having their intended effect, with HFSS food and drink television advertising having declined in accordance with Ofcom’s predictions. This backs up the findings of the Advertising Standards Authority, published in January in its first compliance report into the content of food and drink ads, which similarly found that companies were generally sticking to the rules. On this basis, Ofcom has also agreed to bring forward its review of the impact of the restrictions to July 2008, using data drawn from the first six months of Phase 2.

It therefore appears that the battle for a pre-9pm watershed has had a severe set back – which is good news for both advertisers and the food and drink industry, at least for the time being. We will have to see if the Government now seek to use the Ofcom review to reintroduce the idea of a pre-9pm ban.

Please click here to view our previous Law Now: “Ofcom may face legal action from NHF – children’s advertising consultation” (June 2006).