07 Feb 2024 Advertising watchdog bans Burger King junk food email marketing campaign
Burger King UK broke rules designed to protect children from advertising food and drink high in fat, salt and/or sugar (HFSS), according to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Burger King UK sent three emails to a subscriber registered as under 16 featuring HFSS products, including offers such as ‘buy one get one free’ on burgers.
Food Active lodged a complaint in August 2023 to the ASA, and following an investigation it was deemed Burger King UK had not taken appropriate steps to prevent under 16s on their mailing list from receiving email communications featuring HFSS products.
Today the ASA ruled that Burger King UK broke rules designed to protect children from advertising HFSS food and drink.
The complaint, submitted by Food Active in August 2023, was upheld by the ASA as several emails marketing HFSS deals were sent to an email account that was not verified as being over 16 years old. This included promotion of ‘buy one get one free’ on burgers and other enticing meal deals.
Within the space of eight days, Burger King UK sent three emails featuring offers to purchase HFSS foods to a subscriber under the age of 16, including:
The Committee for Advertising Practice Code requires that HFSS product adverts must not be directed at people under the age of 16 through the selection of media or the context in which they appeared.
Following an investigation by the ASA, the council deemed that Burger King UK had not taken appropriate steps to ensure anyone who joined their mailing list who was under the age of 16 were excluded from any direct email marketing campaigns which promote HFSS products. The ruling states that adverts of this nature must not reach anyone under the age of 16 again through Burger King UK email marketing.
Responding to the ruling, Beth Bradshaw, Food Active Project Manager said:
“We are pleased to see the outcome of this ruling today and thank the ASA for investigating our complaint submitted in August 2023.
However, it is clear that email communication is a form of marketing that is still falling under the radar. In 2022 the ASA found that emails sent by the English Cricket Board and KP Snacks as part of ‘The Hundred’ cricket tournament in 2022 were also in breach of the CAP code on restricting HFSS advertising to under 16s, following a complaint by Food Active and the Children’s Food Campaign.”
Also responding to the ruling, Professor Matthew Ashton, Lead Director of Public Health at Food Active said:
“This latest ruling highlights the need for tighter controls to ensure children are protected from advertising of HFSS food and drink products online. Brands have a responsibility to ensure that they exclude any subscribers under the age of 16 from email communications, and clearly this ruling shows some are not doing so.
We hope this ruling serves as an important reminder to other food and drink companies that they cannot directly promote HFSS products to under 16s across broadcast and non-broadcast media.”
Katharine Jenner, Director of the Obesity Health Alliance said:
“Multi-national brands are becoming increasingly clever and innovative in the ways in which they market their products to children. Research shows restricting junk food adverts on TV and online would significantly reduce the number of children with excess weight.
This ruling could not come at a more appropriate time, as later today the ASA will be closing their consultation on guidance for the long-awaited restrictions on advertisements on less healthy foods. We urgently need this legislation to come into effect to take junk food out of the spotlight for our young people.”
Barbara Crowther, Children’s Food Campaign Coordinator at Sustain said:
“We all want our children to grow up healthy, but the reality is teenagers are bombarded by these junk food advertisements and deals every week – it’s in their inboxes, on phone apps, games and social media, as well as on-street advertising.
There are laws saying companies shouldn’t target children, but companies are constantly failing to put the necessary safeguards in place. It only gets called out when campaigners and members of the public complain to the advertising watchdog.
This is why we need more comprehensive legislation to prevent unhealthy marketing and advertising everywhere, as well as bigger penalties for companies who break the rules.”
Further information, images and media interviews:
Contact Beth Bradshaw at Food Active:
About Food Active
Food Active is a healthy weight programme of work originally based in the North West of England, delivered by the public health charity the Health Equalities Group. The programme aims to address the environmental, social, economic and legislative factors that influence people’s lifestyle choices and behaviours.
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