IAB UK statement following HFSS online ad ban confirmation

Posted on Tuesday 11 May 2021 | IAB UK

Read a statement from our CEO Jon Mew following confirmation that the Government will introduce a total ban on online advertising for products high in fat, salt and sugar

Update to statement - Thursday 24 June 2021

With the Government having confirmed an HFSS online ban for paid-for ads from the start of 2023, read a statement from our CEO Jon Mew here.

Update to statement - Thursday 13 May 2021

Following discussions with DCMS officials, we understand that the Government’s response to the consultations on HFSS advertising restrictions will be published in the next few weeks, prior to the expected introduction of the Health & Care Bill to Parliament in mid-June. While details of the response remain unconfirmed, the Government’s final plan may be more nuanced than the brief mention in the Queen’s Speech would suggest. We know that there will be HFSS online advertising restrictions in the Bill. But it is important that we wait for the details of what exactly the Government intends to legislate for before we can understand the full impact for the industry, and decide on next steps. We will continue working to keep our members updated as more information becomes available. 

Statement from Jon Mew, CEO, IAB UK - Tuesday 11 May 2021

Following confirmation in the Queen’s Speech that the Government will introduce a total ban on online advertising for products high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) by the end of 2022, and in the absence of the Government’s consultation response, we are urgently seeking clarification from DCMS to understand the situation for our members and the wider industry. At IAB UK, we strongly disagree with the ban and the Government’s rationale for it. We recognise that childhood obesity is a significant challenge that must be addressed, and our view remains that an online ad ban is not the solution to this complex problem. 

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. 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. 

Policy interventions as serious and sweeping as an outright ban should be rooted in robust evidence. The Government’s online HFSS ad ban is not. In fact, the Government’s own evidence shows that an online ad ban will cut children’s calorie intake by a minuscule 2.84 calories per child, per day. What’s more, while the UK already has some of the strictest rules in place around online HFSS advertising and children’s exposure to HFSS ads online has fallen dramatically as a result, obesity rates have continued to rise. This fundamentally undermines the assumed link between ad exposure and childhood obesity - a fact that the Government has chosen to ignore in favour of blunt and disproportionate action. 

The fact that current measures are working in reducing children’s already limited exposure to HFSS ads online, according to latest data from the Advertising Standards Authority, further weakens the case for implementing a ban. 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. Protections that continue to limit their exposure to HFSS ads online, whilst allowing companies to continue marketing their perfectly legitimate food and drink products to adults.

As a matter of urgency, the Government needs to respond to its two consultations and provide detail to the industry to address the lack of certainty in the proposals, including the scope of the ban, and the regulatory responsibility and framework. 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.

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