Communications regulator Ofcom is proposing four new options on the advertising of products high in fat, salt and sugar to children. Manufacturers can have their say, but they must act quickly, as the deadline for comment is June 6.
Option one restricts advertisements for products high in fat, salt and sugar (and sponsorship by them) in programmes for children up to five years old and in programmes of particular appeal for children up to nine. Option two places the same restrictions, but on advertisements for all food and drink products; option three prohibits food or drink advertising to pre-school children and places limits on the volume of advertising to all audiences; and option four is an open invitation to all parties to suggest an alternative common position.
Option three is the most onerous for manufacturers - restricting exposure to all audiences, albeit for limited times during the day For example, Cadbury's sponsorship of Coronation Street with bumper credits before and after the programme and commercial breaks would not be possible under option three, as its sponsorship would have used up all food/drink advertising's allotted time.
In addition, advertising during other programmes will be limited to one 30-second commercial per hour during restricted times, assuming no other food or drink companies will be vying for space. The market will suddenly become very crowded indeed. The other two options may be slightly more palatable, but all will necessitate a rethink.
New rules from the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) outlawing the use of licensed characters, such as cartoons and mascots, must also not be forgotten. As these are a common marketing tool, the changes may be particularly restrictive, although it may be possible for advertisements to exploit the distinction between a nine and a 10 year old in relation to this.
Whichever proposal is chosen, when combined with BCAP rules, it will create substantial new restrictions on manufacturers and their advertisements, although not to the extent that consumer groups had been campaigning for.
With companies now spending less on TV advertising, and the increase of time-shifting devices such as SkyPlus allowing viewers to remove TV advertising from their viewing completely, this may be the time to look to other mediums and methods of attracting consumers. The digital arena, not currently subject to the same plethora of restrictions as broadcasting, is one possible place of sanctuary. FM
Rafi Azim-Khan is advertising and marketing partner in Wragge & Co's Food & Drink Team