A TV ad for Coco Pops Granola, shown during the children’s programme ‘Mr Bean’ on 3 January 2018, began with a group of animated animals standing on each other’s shoulders trying to knock a coconut down from a tree. Coco the Monkey ran up to the hyena standing at the bottom, showed him a bowl of cereal and said, “Coco Pops Granola, it’s so chocolatey, so crispy, and look at the milk, it’s turning all chocolatey. Mmm. So, want some?”. The hyena licked his lips as Coco’s friends shouted, “Taste it, taste it!”. The hyena said “Chocolatey!” and grabbed the bowl from Coco, causing the other animals to fall off his shoulders into a big pile. One of them said, “Where’s my breakfast!”, and then “Ow!” as a coconut landed on him. A voice-over concluded, “Coco Pops Granola. Tasty fun for everyone” as Coco and all the animals were shown eating together in the background. A pack of Coco Pops Granola, a bowl and a jug of milk were shown in the foreground. Small on-screen text shown throughout most of the ad stated “Enjoy as part of a healthy diet and active lifestyle, 45g of Coco Pops Granola = 9% RI for sugar”.
The Obesity Health Alliance challenged whether the ad was an ad for a product that was high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS product) that was advertised in programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal to audiences below the age of 16.
Kellogg Marketing and Sales Company (UK) Ltd confirmed that the product featured in the ad, Coco Pops Granola, was not an HFSS product. They said they took the Advertising Code seriously and had strict internal policies and processes in place to ensure the HFSS products in their range were not advertised to children.
They said the ad made clear and consistent references to the product throughout the ad, both visually and in the dialogue between characters and in the voice-over. The ad did not contain any reference to the Coco Pops brand in isolation or to any other product in the range. Coco the Monkey was seen with the product throughout the ad, which focused heavily on the shapes of the food in the bowl (these were unique to the granola product), and the packaging, which was shown at the end of the ad, was different to that of other Coco Pops products. They said the product was therefore clearly differentiated from other products in the Coco Pops range and they considered there would not be any confusion that the ad was for the granola product alone. They had deliberately presented the ad in such a way as to ensure compliance with the Code and demonstrate their responsible approach to advertising.
Kellogg’s said they had taken account of CAP guidance on differentiating HFSS product ads from brand ads when planning the ad. They highlighted that the guidance recognised that ads for non-HFSS products may use a brand-generated character or branding synonymous with a specific HFSS product, and also recognised the power of such brands to promote healthy alternatives to HFSS products.
At the time the ad was seen the Coco Pops portfolio had five different products. Two were non-HFSS and three were HFSS, amounting to a 40/60% split. However, Kellogg’s said they were reformulating Coco Pops original to reduce sugar by 40% in July 2018, which would mean that it would be non-HFSS going forward. As a result 60% of the products in the Coco Pops range would be non-HFSS from July 2018.
Kellogg’s said they understood that the Coco Pops brand resonated with children. It had a long heritage and substantial goodwill following significant investment over a number of decades. They had taken a number of steps to use the Coco Pops brand in a responsible manner. That included reformulating Coco Pops original and introducing new non-HFSS products such as the granola to the range, and using the Coco Pops equity to introduce healthier alternatives to children and their parents through their advertising and promotions. They believed that if the ASA was to find that the ad had the effect of promoting an HFSS product it would reduce take-up of the granola product, would be inconsistent with the Government’s objectives on tackling unhealthy eating, and would discourage advertisers from developing healthier product alternatives.
Clearcast said they had taken account of the relevant CAP guidance when reviewing the ad, and because the product shown in the ad was non-HFSS they had looked at the branding featured in the ad. They said that Coco the Monkey was a brand-generated character which was synonymous with Coco Pops, an HFSS product at the time the ad was cleared and seen by the complainant. Because Kellogg’s had launched several other products and was advertising them more frequently than Coco Pops, Clearcast had queried whether the Coco the Monkey character would still be synonymous with Coco Pops, and therefore HFSS foods.
The CAP guidance specifically referenced that an ad for a specific non-HFSS product that featured a brand-generated character synonymous with a specific HFSS product was unlikely to be regarded as an ad for an HFSS product. It also stated that the use of branding could be a powerful technique in promoting healthier options, but that where such techniques were synonymous with a specific HFSS product the ASA was more likely to apply HFSS product ad restrictions where reference to the non-HFSS product was incidental to the use of such techniques.
Clearcast had therefore reviewed the visuals and audio to reflect on whether the product advertised was incidental to the branding featured: they reviewed the use of the Coco the Monkey character, the packaging, product shots and whether children would be aware of the difference between Coco Pops Granola and Coco Pops. Coco the Monkey was featured, but not heavily as there were other characters included. Coco held the product mostly throughout the ad, so was heavily promoting Coco Pops Granola, and the product, which was significantly different to Coco Pops due to the moon and star shapes, was clearly shown. The packaging was not the standard cereal box used for other Coco Pops products but a flexible plastic pack. They therefore considered the product was very prominent and not incidental to the branding, meaning that both parents and children would be able to tell the difference between the advertised granola product and Coco Pops original cereal.
The BCAP Code required that HFSS product ads must not be broadcast around TV programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal to audiences below the age of 16. CAP Advertising Guidance titled “Identifying brand advertising that has the effect of promoting an HFSS product” laid out that the promotion of HFSS products might occur both directly (where an ad featured an HFSS product) and indirectly through the use of branding that was synonymous with a specific HFSS product, that could be through product-related branding or company or corporate branding more broadly.
The ASA first considered whether the ad had the effect of promoting an HFSS product through the use of branding. We noted that the only product featured in the ad was Coco Pops Granola, which was a non-HFSS product.
However, Coco Pops was a well-established brand, and Coco the Monkey, who was used to advertise all the products in the range, was also well-established as an equity brand character. We considered that many adults and children were likely to very strongly associate the Coco Pops brand and Coco the Monkey primarily with Coco Pops original cereal. At the time the ad was seen by the complainant Coco Pops original cereal was an HFSS product and the Coco Pops range was a mainly HFSS product range. We considered it was therefore incumbent on Kellogg’s to take careful steps to ensure that, if ads for non-HFSS products in the range were directed at children, they did not have the effect of promoting Coco Pops original cereal or other HFSS products in the range through the use of branding.
The ad followed Coco the Monkey, and his friends, as they helped out some other animals who were struggling to find something for breakfast. Coco introduced the granola to the other animals by saying “Coco Pops Granola, it’s so chocolatey, so crispy, and look at the milk, it’s turning all chocolatey”, accompanied by a close-up shot of the bowl which showed the milk quickly turning brown from the chocolate. We considered that the focus of the shot was on the milk turning chocolatey and that the moon and star shapes of the cereal were not particularly easy to distinguish, and that viewers could therefore easily overlook that detail. We further considered that viewers would closely associate the phrase that the milk was “turning all chocolatey” with Coco Pops original cereal. We acknowledged that the voice-over at the end of the ad referred to “Coco Pops Granola”. However, it was accompanied by the recognisable Coco Pops ‘audio logo’ tune which was used in ads for products across the range.
We acknowledged that the pack shot at the end of the ad showed one moon and one star shape and featured the word “GRANOLA”, but noted that the word was in smaller text than the brand name “Coco Pops”, that the pack was dominated by an image of Coco the Monkey, and that the background colour of the packaging was the same bright yellow as that used for all Coco Pops products. We also acknowledged that the packaging was a plastic pouch rather than the cardboard box used for Coco Pops original cereal. However, we considered consumers were likely to overlook the difference in the packaging, and were unlikely to associate the plastic pouch specifically with the granola product. We considered that the overall presentation of the product pack was very similar to that of Coco Pops original cereal and other HFSS products in the range.
Taken as a whole, we considered that the Coco Pops branding was significantly more prominent than the references to the granola product, and that therefore the focus of the ad was on the Coco Pops branding rather than specifically on the granola product. In that context, because we considered that the Coco Pops branding was synonymous with Coco Pops original cereal and with the Coco Pops range we concluded the ad had the effect of promoting an HFSS product and HFSS product range through the use of branding.
The ad was therefore an HFSS product ad for the purposes of the Code, and the rules relating to the targeting of HFSS product ads therefore applied.
The ad was seen by the complainant between episodes of the ‘Mr Bean’ cartoon, during a section of programming specifically dedicated to programmes commissioned for and principally directed at children under 16. We therefore concluded that the ad breached the Code.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules
These products may not be advertised in or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age of 16:
food or drink products that are assessed as high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) in accordance with the nutrient profiling scheme published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) on 6 December 2005. Information on the nutrient profiling scheme is now available on the Department of Health website at:
The ad must not be broadcast again in or adjacent to TV programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age of 16.