If asked to hum your favourite advertising jingles, how many of them would be for food and drink products that would likely fall foul of the Government’s upcoming restrictions on HFSS ads?
For those in comms in the food and drink sector, the rules on HFSS (foods High in Fat, Sugar and Salt) coming into place in October will change work drastically. The advertising landscape in the UK will be completely different. Those old mainstays of traditional TV advertising that are yoghurt, chocolate and spreadable cheese adverts featuring happy celebrities will be gone, and with them, the UK obesity crisis. At least, that’s the thinking laid out in the Government’s ‘Introducing a total online advertising restriction for products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS)’ consultation findings.
‘While the evidence is not conclusive, it’s possible that restricting HFSS advertising exposure could […] influence adult purchases and consumption […] Further restrictions on HFSS advertising could therefore help reduce overconsumption and generate significant additional health benefits,’ say the Government’s conclusions.
Whether or not this will work to help people (and the companies they buy from) make ‘healthier’ choices, or draw criticism equal to that received by recent mandates on calorie inclusion in menus across England, change is coming. What this means in practice – a 9pm watershed on television for HFSS adverts and a complete ban on digital HFSS advertising from 22 October 2022.
Considering the impact these restrictions will have – potentially ‘the most significant in-store changes seen in decades,’ according to Barclays analyst James Anstead – are food and drink comms practioners ready?
There’s a lot of opportunity here. That 9pm watershed and the restrictions on HFSS paid-for ads online doesn’t explicitly include earned media. That means for HFSS brands and clients, the comms function potentially becomes much more valuable. But with that opportunity comes responsibility to share the right message, with the right people.
‘Being part of the discussion is key to getting your voice heard,’ says Vhari Russell, managing director at The Food Marketing Experts.
‘We’ve been working hard to drive collaborations to increase the following for the brands we work with and increase the data they have to enable them to sell directly to consumers. It is about ensuring all the bases are covered in terms of driving traffic to store, both online and bricks and mortar, and then creating standout to establish a brand of choice positioning.
‘Grow your tribe, so that you have a key and engaged customer base that will champion products outside of advertising. Working with influencers is critical to a brand’s success, however, you need to ensure you comply with best practice.’
One organisation that moved ahead of the regulations was TfL, whose policy on junk food advertising has been estimated to have decreased weekly junk food purchases by 1,000 calories. But which other companies are already approaching the regulations in the right way?
‘Dr Wills – we loved their campaign to help drive sales in Tesco to keep their listings,’ says Vhari. ‘Pip & Nut, too – many of the team now subscribe to get their nut butter deliveries since the pandemic.
‘TfL has already reported a significant change, and I think it is a great opportunity for brands to get creative and return to grassroots tactics. The guidelines have been put in place to help the nation eat better and make healthier choices. For brands that are high in salt and sugar, it is key to communicate in an honest and engaging way. Very few brands state you should eat their product all day every day, so it’s about consciously conveying the occasions to consume.’
With the cost of living crisis in the UK impacting purchasing decisions, and food High in Fat, Sugar and Salt often a cheaper and more convenient choice, HFSS products will continue to have a place on shelves.
PR teams working in the food and drink sector have an opportunity to make a difference with their campaigns, just as brands do with their approach – comms can help consumers mix HFSS foods into as balanced a lifestyle as they can manage within their means.
‘Brands need to drive the occasions when their products fit into the customer’s life so that they remain in the basket week in week out,’ says Vhari. ‘When consumers’ budgets are being hit harder it is vital that brands share the purpose, values, and credentials to retain customer loyalty.
‘I think that disruptive marketing combined with engaging and mouth-watering content is here to stay.’