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Provocative junk food ban on London transport

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced a ban on the advertising of food/drink high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) on London Underground to both praise and criticism. The statistic behind this initiative is that a staggering 37% of 10 and 11 year olds in London are overweight or obese (as specified by Public Health England). Additionally, obesity is said to have cost the NHS more than £6.1bn last year. Mayor Khan said: “Child obesity is putting the lives of young Londoners at risk and placing huge pressure on our already strained health service. It is absolutely imperative that we take tough action against this ticking time bomb now, and reducing exposure to junk food advertising has a role to play in this”.

So, what will this look like?

  • To be effective from 25th February 2019, all products high in HFSS will be banned from advertising across any transport controlled by the TfL (underground, overground, buses, trams and river services in London)
  • Products such as raisins and sugar-free drinks will be permitted, however, products the like of burgers, chocolate and sugary drinks will be banned
  • Advertisers can promote their healthier products if deemed not HFSS
  • Advertisers cannot create a loophole by solely promoting their brand or generic logo

How has this been received?
Praise for this initiative has come in from the likes of chefs, campaigners and health experts calling this an amazing move from the Mayor. Opinions from the ‘pro’ corner point out that any and all actions should be taken to address childhood obesity. This move by the Mayor is a move in the right direction. Health experts have also run studies to validate that advertising influences children’s purchasing behaviour. Their aim is to limit children’s visibility to this type of advertisement to reduce unhealthy purchasing decisions.

But where there is praise, there is criticism. The chairman of outdoor advertising trade body, Outsmart, Justin Cochrane, has said that advertising for these products accounts for £35m revenue per year and he doesn’t believe this lost revenue will be replaced. Meanwhile, the Advertising Association have also voiced their concerns. On their website, they outline how this issue has already been handled: “Existing UK rules mean that ads for HFSS products cannot be targeted at children in any media…enforcement by the [self- and co- regulatory] Advertising Standards Authority is effective and well-respected.” They go on to say that there is no clear evidence that this ban will reduce childhood obesity. Their view, which is shared by the ‘con’ side, is that the ban will cost the TfL millions in lost revenue and that commuters could suffer from higher rates with no improvement on childhood obesity to show for it.

All Response Media viewpoint
There are some interesting implications coming from this. There could be a knock-on effect with the threat of heightened restrictions on other media channels such as TV. With Jamie Oliver already advocating for certain foods to be banned pre-watershed, this has created some unease amongst broadcasters. The notion here that this will lose broadcasters income and therefore restrict their ability to invest in programming; and they call out specifically children’s programming. However, in my opinion, any potential ban extending to TV would be slow and exceedingly difficult to get across the line given the number of stakeholders. I don’t foresee this getting traction any time soon.

Sticking to the issue at hand, this junk food ban for London Underground advertising is going ahead whether one agrees with it or not, so it is important to think about how best to take advantage of the situation. Food and drink advertisers account for 35%+ of London outdoor advertising revenue (based on Nielsen Ad Dynamix 2017 spend), so we’d be foolish to pretend it won’t have an effect.

While I don’t agree that the revenue won’t be replaced as undoubtedly new advertisers will emerge, it does offer benefits for non-HFSS advertisers. With more availability for outdoor advertising space as well as potential access to cheaper and/or short-term rates: this puts advertisers in the power position. Formats such as tube car panels (TCPs) and lift and escalator panels (LEPs) often sell out quickly and while this ban may create some extra availability here, the main format used by food and drink sector is 6 sheets (55%+ spend) so this would be the area to cash in on extra availability and rate negotiation.

This ban could open the market to a lot of new advertisers for whom availability and cost were barriers to entry. If you would like to explore this further, please get to in touch with us and we can discuss the best route to your outdoor campaign and help secure you the best deals to capitalise on this ban.

If you’d like to find out more about the regulations around HFSS advertising (and if it’s applicable to you), a great resource is available through the ASA and CAP website.

For more information on the outdoor services we offer click here.