Ad description

An ad for McDonald’s on the back of a bus ticket, seen on 9 May 2018, featured a voucher for a £1.99 promotion for a Big Mac, McChicken Sandwich or Filet-O-Fish and medium fries.


The complainant challenged whether the ad was for a product that was high in fat, salt or sugar (an HFSS product ad) that was directed at children.


McDonald’s Restaurants Ltd said they ran a number of ads on bus tickets, which were placed by an agency that was aware of the requirement that HFSS product ads must not be placed in media where more than 25% of the audience was under 16.

McDonald’s said that the Department of Transport’s most recent statistics (from 2013) showed that the average bus user was 47 years old, and that 5- to 16-year-olds accounted for 15% of journeys across the UK. Children under the age of five were not reported in the statistics as they travelled for free (therefore without the need for tickets).

The ad in question was displayed on the back of tickets issued on the 261 route which travelled between Uckfield and East Grinstead, operated by Compass Group. During school term-time children under 16 made up, on average, 16% of passengers on the route. Three-quarters of those children used a bus pass and so would not see the ad because they did not purchase a ticket. During term-time the proportion of children under 16 that made up passengers on the route who also saw the ad was 12% of the total number of passengers. During school holidays only 4% of passengers on the route were under 16.

McDonald’s added that the ad clearly stated that users must be 16 years or older to redeem the voucher.


Not upheld

The CAP Code required that HFSS product ads must not be directed at children through the selection of media or the context in which they appeared, and that no medium should be used to advertise HFSS products if more than 25% of its audience was under the age of 16. The ad featured images of, and referred to, various HFSS products, and was therefore an HFSS product ad for the purposes of the Code.

The ASA considered that because the ads appeared on the back of bus tickets they did not appear in media which was specifically directed at children. It was therefore necessary to review whether the proportion of under 16s who made up the audience of the ad was more than 25%.

Children under 16 comprised less than 25% of the UK population and we considered that therefore, in general, ads for HFSS products which appeared in outdoor public spaces were unlikely to breach the Code. However, in areas where there might be a concentration of children under 16 (for example on a bus route which served schools) the proportion of children in the ad’s audience might be higher than 25%.

The data from Compass Group showed that the proportion of children in the ad’s audience (i.e., people who used the 261 bus route), was highest during school term-time, at 16% of all passengers. However, many of those children used bus passes and as a result 12% of all passengers in the ad’s audience were children under 16. Because the proportion of under 16s in the audience for the ad was under 25% of the total audience, we concluded that the ad did not breach the Code.

We investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule  15.18 15.18 HFSS product advertisements must not be directed at people under 16 through the selection of media or the context in which they appear.  No medium should be used to advertise HFSS products, if more than 25% of its audience is under 16 years of age.​  (HFSS product ad placement), but did not find it in breach.


No further action necessary.

CAP Code (Edition 12)


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