This Show Is Brought To You By A... Salad?

Is social media and digital advertising about to be a victim of its own success? It certainly appears that way as the Government has announced a consultation process on proposals to ban ads for junk food not only on television before 9pm, but also online.

I can't think of a age-related watershed ban that has been designed, from the outset, with a rule applying across television, social and online advertising. If the plans go through -- and at the moment all plans like this do tend to -- it will surely be one of the first, if not the first, of a blanket, age-based ban being applied across all live advertising on television and the internet.

At the moment, the law has banned advertisements for foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) on children's channels and against content that is designed to appeal to children. This is easy enough to control online where sites are clearly aimed at children, or not. However, the problem with television is that children are watching a whole plethora of content from a wide variety of tv and VOD channels.

In fact, Ofcom has estimated that nearly two-thirds of a child's tv viewing time is spent watching shows not intended for youngsters. I can certainly testify to my kids watching endless repeats of "Friends" and other millennial-oriented shows to prove the point.

Adland has come out with statements of how this is already one of the most highly regulated markets in the world, and it is right to do so. My take is that the way the wind is blowing, these will go through.

We have already seen TfL place a blanket ban on junk food advertising from this year. Every time the issue comes up there is a plethora of doctors and charities offering support, pointing out what a threat childhood obesity has become in the UK.

So adland needs to brace for a blanket ban on HFSS foods before 9pm. That means any shows that have fast-food sponsors, such as The X Factor and I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, will either need to be permanently scheduled after 9pm or get new sponsors.

Alternatively, it could also mean that food brands innovate healthier options that can be advertised throughout the day and used for sponsorships. It could be the "low calorie salad pizza" or the "fat free veggie burger" that sponsors a hit show, rather than the brand as a whole. Ultimately, this approach to a healthier menu would need to be rolled out across a brand to enable it to advertise more freely. 

Expect some changes to the menus and ingredients, then, as well as a different look to advertising before 9pm. Adland will appeal its case -- but ultimately, there's only one way public opinion is shifting in this debate.

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