The New CAP Non-Broadcast Restrictions Q&A

The New CAP Non-Broadcast Restrictions Q&A

Who are CAP?

CAP stands for the Committee of Advertising Practice. They are a private organisation who are responsible for writing advertising codes in the UK. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) are the sister organisation who are responsible for enforcing these advertising codes and ensuring all advertising adheres to current restrictions. Neither are owned by the Government and are self-regulatory and self-appointed.

Why are online advertising restrictions needed?

There are significant concerns regarding the role of non-broadcast media (such as social media, website, advergaming, vlogging) when it comes to children’s eating habits. Before now, marketing and advertising online remained completely unregulated. This allowed total freedom of industry to promote their products through new platforms, including smartphones, laptops and tablets. Many academics and public health professionals online advertising to be more invasive, persistent, persuasive and engaging than traditional platforms of advertising, such as television – which is regulated by Ofcom. What’s more, children are now spending more time online than watching TV. With the majority of food and beverage marketing advertising foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS), several sectors have raised concerns that the influence on online junk food marketing is promoting unhealthy food habits and preferences in children. Thereby, fuelling excessive energy, fat, sugar and salt intakes which are linked to obesity and several other non-communicable diseases.

Campaign groups, such as the Obesity Health Alliance, have placed restricting junk food marketing to children on all platforms as a key route to tackling childhood obesity. In spite of this, the Childhood Obesity Plan of August 2016 failed to address non-broadcast media as a driver of childhood obesity. Moreover, in 2015 CAP denied there was any link between online HFFS advertising and childhood obesity. Following increased pressure from the public health community, CAP backtracked on their previous stance and announced plans to introduce restrictions online in December 2017, which came into place 1st July 2017.

How will they work?

  • Restrictions only apply to ‘children’s media’ (under 16 years old) – usually explicitly aimed at children audiences.
  • Ads directly or indirectly promoting a HFSS product cannot appear in children’s media.
  • Ads for HFSS products cannot appear in other media where children make up over 25% of the audience.
  • The Department of Health nutrient profiling model will be used to classify which products are HFSS.
  • Restrictions do not include broadcast media (TV) – they have their own code.
  • Ads which feature brands and branding associated with HFSS products may not be allowed, even if they don’t actually feature HFSS products. For example, twitter conversations between industry and consumers – not advertising a product, instead reiterating the brand logo.
  • Restrictions operate on a reactive basis, whereby a complaint must be submitted before action is taken. It is the advertiser’s responsibility to ensure their advertisements do not breach regulations. Whereas with broadcast media, advertisements must be pre-approved before airing.

Are there any criticisms of these new restrictions?

Whist the plans have been welcomed by most campaign groups as a step in the right direction, there is much more to be done. Many believe they do not go far enough to protect children from the persuasive marketing pursuits of the food and drink industry.

The Obesity Health Alliance argue that children will still be exposed to HFFS advertising through general audience websites and non-broadcast platforms.

Others have raised concerns over using the Department of Health nutrient profiling model to define HFFS products. Dr Zoe Hardcombe explores these concerns in detail (add link), but in summary, the model means “Diet Coca-Cola is fine to advertise to children; Welsh lamb isn’t”. However, there is currently a review of this model to bring it up to date with the revised added sugar and dietary fibre recommendations.

The Children’s Food Campaign also raise concerns over the monitoring and enforcement of restrictions and age identification – whilst social media is predominantly restricted to 13 years and over, many under this age have one or several social media profiles. There is also lots of missing data and information about enforcing restrictions, for example: CAP have not produced a list of websites which are ‘children’s media’.

Finally, CAP/ASA have no legislative powers. Restrictions solely work on the basis of the public submitting a complaint. An investigation will follow, however many argue the process seems incredibly long winded and by which time, children have viewed the advertisement and the damage is done. Details of punishments of breaches are scarce. It is up to industry to ensure their advertisements are not in breach of the codes of practice, which places a tremendous amount of trust and honesty in their hands. From experience, we know self-regulatory pledges and deals (i.e. the Responsibility Deal) are usually limited in impact.

What can I do if I see an online advertisement which breaches these restrictions?

The Children’s Food Campaign have launched ‘Operation Eagle Eye’ in order to keep a close watch on online advertisements and ensure industry are not breaching the new codes. It will submit complaints and encourage others to do so, monitor and gather evidence, asking the public to send information and examples of advertisements they come across and finally compiling dossiers for politicians and feed into ASA’s monitoring and evaluation process. To find out more about Operation Eagle Eye and about how you can help towards safer online food environment for the future generations, follow this link…


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