UK Bans Some Food Ads On Kids Shows

The UK is banning all TV ads for foods high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) in programming aimed at kids and younger teens, a move that one U.S. ad industry attorney said does not bode well for global advertisers.

Ofcom (as in Office of Communications), which is responsible for setting TV ad standards in the UK, decided Friday to adopt strict new standards for marketing HFSS foods to kids, with the HFSS determination made according to nutritional guidelines from its Food Standards Agency.

U.S. food marketers earlier this week adopted their own voluntary standards to promote healthier eating. Ofcom’s restrictions ban junk food ads “in and around all programs of particular appeal to children under the age of 16  [U.S. efforts generally target 12 and under] broadcast at any time of day or night.”

That would include prime time showings of The Simpsons and the U.K’s replay of American Idol. Ofcom also will ban the use of celebrities or licensed characters, like cartoon figures, from kids ads and product placements.

That is both kids shows and any other shows that have a "significantly higher proportion than average of viewers under 16." Initially it had proposed limiting them only to shows targeting kids 9 and younger.

Ofcom also will ban the use of celebrities or licensed characters, like cartoon figures, from kids ads and product placements.For dedicated children's channels, the new rules could mean a hit of some 15% of total revenues, Ofcom conceded.

Advertisers will not be allowed to offer free gifts or promotions in TV ads targeted to primary school kids, or to make any health or nutrition claims in those adds.

The rules are scheduled to take effect within the next two months for programs on general channels and phased in over two years for dedicated kids channels, where it would be tougher to replicate the revenues from food and drink ads, Ofcom said.

"The differences between the United States and the United Kingdom are noteworthy, " said Adonis Hoffman, senior VP and counsel for the American Association of Advertising Agencies. "The recent decision by the British media regulator to ban television advertisements does not bode well for global advertisers, who will be required to speak – or in this case not to speak—to British audiences in much different ways. In effect, the British government has just removed access to its market for an entirely legal product."

Hoffman was quick to add that America needed no such ban. "In America, food companies are rapidly re-tailoring their approach so that the food is more healthful and the messages are more responsible.  Their pro-active self-regulation obviates the need for any government regulation.”--P.J. Bednarski contributed to this report.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.