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HFSS advertising restrictions- Final review

Statement published 26|07|10

Summary

Introduction

1.1 This section describes the outcome of Ofcom's final review into the effectiveness of restrictions on advertising for products that are high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS). It compares the way in which the balance of television advertising of food and drink seen by children has changed, by looking at their exposure to advertisements for HFSS products in 2005 (before advertising restrictions were introduced) and in 2009 (after the restrictions had been fully implemented).

Background

1.2 In December 2003, amid growing concerns about child obesity, the Government called for a change in the nature and balance of advertising food and drink products to children. The then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport asked Ofcom to consider proposals for strengthening the rules on television advertising of food and drink products to children. Government elaborated its policy objective in a White Paper published by the Department of Health in November 2004, which said that there was a strong case for action to restrict further the advertising and promotion to children of those foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt and sugar'.

1.3 In November 2006, following an extended period of analysis and consultation, Ofcom announced a ban on the scheduling of HFSS advertising during children's airtime and around programmes with a disproportionately high child audience. HFSS advertising would continue to be allowed at other times. Ofcom's principal aim was to reduce the exposure of children to HFSS advertising, as a means of reducing opportunities to persuade children to demand and consume HFSS products' .

1.4 For this purpose, HFSS products were defined by reference to a nutrient profiling model developed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).The scheduling rules were phased in from 1 April 2007 (see Annex 1 for the full set of scheduling rules). The final phase came into force on 1 January 2009, when all HFSS advertising was banned from children's channels.

1.5 Ofcom estimated that the advertising restrictions, once fully implemented, would reduce the exposure of 4-15 year olds to HFSS advertising by 41% of the 2005 level (the last year for which we had comprehensive revenue and viewing data at the time) and by 51% for younger children (4-9 year olds) .

1.6 In parallel, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) introduced restrictions on advertising techniques that may be used in promoting food and drink products, including some specific to HFSS products. Section 2 summarises the nature of the restrictions in more detail, and they are set out in full in Annex 2.

1.7 In announcing the restrictions, Ofcom said that it would carry out a review in due course to assess whether or not the restrictions were having the expected effects in terms of:

a) the reduction in the amount of HFSS advertising seen by children;
b) the use of advertising techniques considered to appeal to children in HFSS advertising; and
c) the impact on broadcasting revenues.

1.8 The Government asked Ofcom to carry out an interim review in 2008, before the final phase of restrictions came into force. The key findings from this were that, during 2007/8, children saw around 34% less HFSS advertising than in 2005, with younger children (4-9 year olds) seeing 39% less and older children (1015 year olds) seeing 28% less .

1.9 This final review looks at data from 2009, following the implementation of the final phase of restrictions (a ban on all HFSS advertising on children's channels) and compares it with data for 2005 (prior to the introduction of the restrictions).

The changing context

1.10 To understand the significance of changes to the nature and balance of food advertising to children, it is important to look at the context in which these changes are occurring. We examine this in more detail in Section 4. The main contextual changes between 2005 and 2009 are similar to those observed in the interim report and are as follows:

a) children are watching broadly the same amount of television as in 2005 (around 16 hours a week), and the same proportion of viewing in commercial adult airtime (just over half) and children's airtime (around a third);
b) 93% of households with children had access to multichannel television in 2009 up from 76% in 2005. As a result, children's viewing has shifted somewhat from the main PSB channels to digital channels;
c) the main beneficiaries of this shift in children's viewing habits have been children's channels (both commercial and non-commercial) and the commercial PSB portfolio services (e.g. ITV2, Fiver and E4) where children's viewing has increased from 0.5 hours in 2005 to 1.6 hours per week in 2009 (0.6 hours to 2 hours for 10-15 year olds);
d) in line with TV advertising in general, the number of HFSS spots on television has increased overall (mainly due to the proliferation of channels). However the share of HFSS adverts as a proportion of all TV advertising has remained stable (10.0% in 2005 compared to 9.8% in 2009); and
e) there has been a significant shift in the balance of food and drink advertising on television. In 2005, we estimate over 22% of all food and drink advertising spots were for non-HFSS products; by 2009, this had risen to over 33%.

Changes in the amount of HFSS advertising seen by children

1.11 For the reasons explained in Section 3, while the amount of food and drink advertising can be directly measured, it is not possible to measure exactly how much HFSS advertising there was in either 2005 or 2009. The best estimate of change requires a comparison between separate assessments or proxies' of how much HFSS advertising was seen by children in 2005, and how much they saw in 2009. It is important to note that these assessments are prepared on different bases, and the outcome is necessarily approximate and should not be taken as an exact indication.

1.12 On that basis, we estimate that overall, compared with 2005, in 2009:

a) children saw around 37% less HFSS advertising (i.e. a reduction of 4.4bn impacts);
b) younger children (4-9 year olds) saw 52% less (3.1bn impacts); older children (1015 year olds) saw 22% less (1.4bn impacts);
c) overall, children saw 40% less HFSS advertising on the commercial PSB channels(2.4bn impacts) and 33% less advertising on commercial non-PSB channels (2.0bn impacts). These reductions were driven by the decline in impacts during children's airtime. In adult airtime, children saw 28% (1.4bn impacts) less HFSS advertising on the commercial PSB channels, but saw 46% (1.3bn impacts) more advertising on commercial non-PSB channels. As a result children saw 1% (0.1bn impacts) less HFSS advertising overall in adult airtime;
d) exposure to HFSS advertising was eliminated during children's airtime (including both children's channels and children's slots on other channels); and
e) despite an increase in the volume of HFSS advertising aired throughout the day, children's exposure to HFSS advertising fell in all day parts before 9pm and by 25% between the peak hours of 18:00-21:00.These reductions were driven by the decline in impacts during children's airtime.

1.13 It should also be noted that not all of the HFSS advertising seen by children is for products that may appeal to them. Separate analysis carried out by Ofcom suggests that overall just over 56% of all food and drink advertising seen by children was either for non HFSS products or for HFSS products unlikely to appeal to them e.g. spreads, cooking oil and drinks mixers etc.

1.14 Broadcasters complied with the restrictions on scheduling HFSS advertising during children's airtime. Ofcom is aware of two instances where an HFSS advert was mistakenly aired during children's airtime. By the same token, we found little evidence that advertisers were evading the spirit of the restrictions, by airing advertising and sponsorship during children's airtime in the names of brands commonly associated with HFSS products. The rules on scheduling HFSS advertising apply equally to sponsorship bumpers. We have found only two broadcasters in breach of the rules in relation to sponsorship between 2005 and 2009 (one on a UK service and a second broadcaster on two of its channels licensed by Ofcom but targeted at Spain ). This resulted in the removal of the sponsorship credits and, for one broadcaster, the implementation of additional staff training.

Changes in the use of advertising techniques seen by children

1.15 As in the interim review, Ofcom has looked to ascertain what changes there have been in the use of particular advertising techniques used in food and drink advertising that have been defined as of particular appeal to children . The analysis includes advertisements for both HFSS and non-HFSS products.

1.16 Between Q1 2005 and Q1 2009:

a) children saw less advertising featuring licensed characters (-84%), brand equity characters (-56%), other characters (-2%) and promotions (-41%);
b) children saw more advertising featuring celebrities (143%) and health claims (18%). Almost all of the growth in exposure took place in adult airtime. In line with the interim review, the majority of celebrities featured in these advertisements appeared to be primarily of appeal to adults (e.g. Ian Botham, Gloria Hunniford);
c) in children's airtime, use of all of these techniques (with the exception of celebrities) declined, but continued to register a presence as they are sometimes used to promote non-HFSS products; and
d) in adult airtime the use the use of licensed characters also fell, but the use of the other assessed techniques rose.

1.17 Overall, our analysis continues to suggest that children are exposed to significantly less HFSS advertising using techniques considered to be of particular appeal to children.

1.18 Surveys carried out by the ASA between 2007 and 2009 show that broadcasters are complying with the restrictions on advertising techniques that may be used in food and drink advertising aimed at children. In its latest compliance survey the ASA found that all of the food and drink advertisements shown on the 67 television services (including regional ITV services) that were monitored complied fully with the HFSS content restrictions.

Impact on broadcasters

1.19 In restricting the advertising that broadcasters could carry, Ofcom sought to avoid a disproportionate impact on the revenues of broadcasters. Ofcom estimated that the restrictions would, nonetheless, have an adverse affect on the advertising revenue earned by broadcasters, although some would be able to mitigate that loss to a greater or lesser extent.

1.20 The interim review found that the restrictions on HFSS food and drink advertising were not the most significant factor affecting broadcasters in the period under review 2005 -2007/8), but was not able to quantify the impact they had on broadcasting revenues .

1.21 For the final review, Ofcom sought views from broadcasters on whether they were able to provide advertising revenue data for 2008-9 that would shed light on the impact of the advertising restrictions. All of the broadcasters that responded indicated that it would not be feasible to disentangle the impact of the restrictions from other factors, such as the economic downturn.

Conclusions

1.22 Ofcom's 2004 research review suggested that television has a relatively modest impact on children's food preferences, and is only one among a number of factors affecting those preferences. Nonetheless, Ofcom and its co-regulatory partner the Advertising Standards Association put in place rules on both the scheduling and the content of HFSS advertising that are amongst the strictest in the world.

1.23 These restrictions have:

a) reduced children's exposure to HFSS advertising significantly (37% overall), particularly in the case of younger children (52%), who may be more susceptible to the influence of advertising. In the case of older children, the reduction is less marked (22%), and somewhat less than that observed in the interim review (28%). However, this reflects the greater proportion of their viewing in adult airtime, and a shift in their viewing towards channels carrying more HFSS advertising;
b) led to a sharp drop in HFSS advertising featuring various advertising techniques considered attractive to children, such as popular cartoon characters. While advertisers continued to make use of celebrities, both in children's and adult airtime, most of these are likely to appeal principally to adults; and
c) contributed to a significant shift in the balance of food and drink advertising on television towards non-HFSS products, which accounted for an estimated 33.1% all food and drink advertising spots in 2009 as against 22.5% in 2005 and 41.1% of all food and drink child impacts in 2009, as against 19.3% in 2005.

1.24 We are therefore satisfied that the restrictions have served to reduce significantly the amount of HFSS advertising seen by children, and to reduce the influence of techniques in HFSS advertising that are considered likely to be particularly attractive to children.

1.25 Against this background, and given the public policy objectives Ofcom was asked to take into account (see paragraph 1.2 above), we consider it appropriate to maintain the current restrictions, but not to extend them, for the reasons Ofcom stated in November 2006. Ofcom will therefore maintain the current restrictions, including:

a) a ban on advertising HFSS products in programmes made for children aged 4-15;
b) a ban on advertising HFSS products in programmes likely to be of particular appeal to children aged 4-15;
c) a ban on sponsorship in the name of HFSS products in programmes made for children or likely to be of particular appeal to them; and
d) restrictions on HFSS advertising targeting children of primary school age or younger, including bans on the use of licensed characters and celebrities popular with children, on health claims, and on promotional offers.

1.26 Given the resources that were required for the detailed analysis that was undertaken for the interim and final reviews, we do not anticipate conducting a further review unless there is clear evidence of a change in circumstances.

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