Children and HFSS Ads – Three Lessons from 2019

The CAP (and BCAP) Code defines ‘HFSS products’ as “those food or soft drink products that are assessed as High in Fat, Salt or Sugar in accordance with the Department of Health nutrient profiling model”.  Since 1 July 2017, adverts for HFSS products must not appear in media directed at anyone under 16 (rule 15.18). 

Advertisers need to take particular care with ads that are likely to be seen to directly target primary school children (i.e. under-12s), whenever they appear.  These should never contain promotions (rule 15.14), or celebrities and licensed characters that are popular with children (rule 15.15).  An HFSS ad can be one that directly promotes an HFSS product, or has the effect of promoting an HFSS product indirectly. 

We’ve compiled a comprehensive HFSS Toolkit that covers the key aspects of HFSS advertising, but here are three lessons from 2019 rulings:      

1. Beware the pitfalls of age self-reporting

One of the enduring challenges of online targeting, in HFSS and other areas, is how to deal with incorrect self-reporting of age.  Recent ASA rulings concerning alcohol, another age-restricted product, have taken the view that - in the absence of interest-based targeting information - demographic information will generally be sufficient.

However, the ASA does expect advertisers to make full use of interest-based targeting tools whenever they’re available.  For example, marketers might consider using demographic information about their audiences in conjunction with selecting interest-based factors popular with adult audiences and de-selecting interest-based factors popular with under-16s.

2. Age-gating alone isn’t enough

Where HFSS marketers’ own websites are concerned, they need to hold data demonstrating that no more than 25% of the audience is under-16 (though if the content is specifically created for under-16s it’s likely to be problematic under rule 15.18, regardless). 

The ASA has made very clear that they do not consider age-gating alone to be sufficient to comply with the restrictions, even when this requires additional information like an email address.

3. Media placement

Media placement is an issue that some marketers have got right and some have got wrong this year.  The ASA expects advertisers to take a common sense approach; for example, not placing posters for HFSS products within 100 metres of primary and secondary schools (it should be noted that 100 metres is not a distance hardwired into the CAP Code, though it can be a useful rule of thumb for the ASA when it considers placement in outdoor media). 

To avoid the more obvious hazards in this area, marketers should ensure less than 25% of a medium’s audience is under-16, and where possible, use all of the tools at their disposal to exclude anyone from their audience who might be under-16.     


If you need further guidance on this topic, as well as our comprehensive HFSS Toolkit, we also offer an eLearning module on food and soft drink advertising to children. And as always, our Copy Advice team are happy to provide bespoke advice on your own non-broadcast marketing.

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