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Government junk food ban – obstacle or opportunity?

The Government has recently announced its decision to ban advertising before 9pm that promotes food high in fat, sugar, or salt (HFSS), online or on TV. The measures come as part of the yearlong mission to restrict the damaging impact of obesity. The news has, however, been received with criticism from various industry professionals who foresee a detrimental impact the move may have on the economy.

The ban corresponds with a new report from Public Health England, which suggests that being obese or overweight substantially increases the health risks from Covid-19. Some health experts however have argued that this move brings too much attention to an individual responsibility rather than structural health inequalities. Professor Andrew Goddard, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, has said:

“The approach had not been as all-encompassing as some medics had hoped for, saying it had not taken fully into account how obesity was “the result of biological, genetic and social factors” and not just personal choice.

The Government’s previously published research has shown that a pre-9pm HFFS advertising ban will reduce a child’s calorie intake by a miniscule 1.7 calories per day. This is a highly insignificant return when compared to the harmful effect it will have on businesses that have been boosting the nation’s economy through the Covid-19 crisis; with some of the predictions estimating the ban might cost the industry £700m a year.

The Food and Drink Federation alongside media and advertising industries have criticised the move. The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) has also shared its frustration on the decision by arguing the following:

“The Government is encouraging the country to Eat Out to Help Out but at the same time intending to introduce a ban on advertising HFSS products. Advertising fuels the economy and should be used as a key enabler in getting the country’s economy back on its feet. Ad bans will do the opposite.”

All Response Media viewpoint

No clear guidelines have been released yet to either advertisers or media owners relating to when the new HFFS ad restrictions are to be implemented, but it is not anticipated to happen earlier than 2022. Brands should therefore not expect any immediate repercussions in the near future. There is still however a lot of uncertainty of the full impact the new restrictions might have on businesses, as well as the TV market and advertising, when they do take place.

It’s clear that a significant share of the daytime impacts currently delivered by the HFSS brands will either be downsized altogether or re-distributed into later post 9pm time-bands. Nielsen analysis has revealed that nearly half (47.6%) of all the food ads shown during September 2019 on ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky One were for HFSS products (source: The Grocer).

We at ARM have seen first-hand the positive impact of daytime and pre-peak spots for brands within this category. Furthermore, 71% of the fast food restaurant, 61% of the frozen food and 63% of the food content adverts in general are currently delivered before 9pm (source: BARB). This means that a significant share of these impacts will be dispersed into later time bands potentially affecting the pricing rates concurrently with the increasing demand trends, which could potentially have a negative effect on all advertisers.

Looking at this year’s viewing figures however, food and drink brands currently account for 14% of the total delivered impacts (source: BARB). As per Nielsen’s report, the HFSS brands are estimated to account for 50% of this spend thus the ban would only affect approximately 7% of the TV market. The overall impact on the market and pricing could therefore be relatively small.

With the continuously evolving post-Covid-19 TV market landscape, it is still too early days to speculate about the full effect the HFSS ban might have on the airtime delivery and pricing, as well as businesses in general. Nevertheless, restrictions that might provide an obstacle for some businesses, could provide a contingency opportunity for numerous direct response focused brands. Lower demand for the daytime time-band will provide more inventory for brands looking to boost acquisition activity. And again, with a lower demand there is an opportunity for cheaper rates and therefore more efficient campaign performance.

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