Expert says new guidelines should serve to remind food and drink advertisers of their social responsibilities

Out-Law News | 27 Feb 2014 | 11:06 am | 1 min. read

New guidance on food and soft drink advertising should act as a warning to businesses promoting such products that the UK's advertising watchdog will be monitoring for compliance in the sector over the next few months, an expert has said.

Advertising clearance specialist George Campbell of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the guidelines (6-page / 159KB PDF), issued by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), also respond to recent public concerns about the health and nutritional benefits of products being marketed to them.

"The new guidelines indicate that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is likely to be particularly monitoring the compliance of adverts for food and drinks products with the CAP Code over the coming months," Campbell said. "It is important that businesses that make claims about the quality or nutritional values of their products are able to substantiate those claims so as not to mislead consumers and fall foul of the CAP Code or other legal requirements."

The new guidelines advise food and soft drink advertisers that they must not "encourage frequent eating between meals, eating immediately before going to bed or excessive consumption (either in terms of quantity consumed or frequency of consumption)". Advertisers are told that the portion sizes displayed within their marketing material should be "responsible and relevant to the scene depicted, especially if children are featured".

Advertisers are not allowed to display images of people acting gluttonously within adverts where the products being consumed should "be eaten only in moderation", such as chocolate bars, the guidance said. Ads should not "condone or encourage" consumers to eat unhealthily either, it said. This means marketing material should not show people "skipping meals" of displaying a "dislike of green vegetables", for example.

Other guidelines included in CAP's note advise food advertisers on their responsibilities when promoting certain goods to children. It said that the ban that applies to "sales promotions in advertising for food that is targeted through its content at pre-school and primary school children" under the CAP Code, other than for "fresh fruit or fresh vegetables", applies equally on websites as it does in traditional print publications.

"The food advertising rules are designed to make sure that food and drink is promoted responsibly and ads don’t encourage poor nutritional habits, such as excessive consumption or unhealthy lifestyles," CAP said in a statement. "Although the number of complaints the ASA receives from members of the public about food ads is low, we recognise that the impact of food advertising is part of a wider public health debate about current levels of obesity."

"These latest steps are a demonstration of our on-going commitment to responsible regulation and are timely given the extension of our remit and changes in media use," it added.