School's Back -- Healthy Food Brands Must Seize The Media Opportunity

  • by , September 26, 2019

The UK’s 10 million children have returned to school. The thoughts of long summer holidays are far behind us all, replaced in the minds of parents with concerns around education, evolving friendships, and social media usage. The food our children consume every day is also a major issue. 

That’s partly due to the prominence of the debate around rising obesity rates among young people, and the affordability and availability of HFSS food (high in fat, sugar, and salt).

The media industry is at the heart of this debate, following the Government’s announcement of a consultation ahead of a possible pre-watershed ban on TV advertising for all HFSS foods. Other administrations have proven even more robust in their opposition to advertising from “unhealthy” food brands.

For instance, London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan introduced a total ban on such ads across the Transport for London network, starting in February 2019. 

Advertising and media bodies are concerned about the impact that this could have on their industry. Both ISBA and the Advertising Association have attacked the Government’s plans for TV advertising restrictions, arguing that Whitehall is reacting to a “significantly weaker case then the one dismissed by Ofcom in 2010,” and pointing to good intentions from brands in “playing their part in addressing this complex issue.”

At first glance that seems fair enough. After all, these trade bodies have the vested interests of major brands and media owners to represent. However, perhaps they -- and the media industry at large -- are missing a trick.

Framed as part of a more positive approach, wider restrictions on ads for HFSS foods won’t be such bad news for UK media struggling with trust issues, and will present an opportunity for the more progressive brands in the food industry.

For a start, that’s because large swathes of the food industry have positive stories to tell about their move toward healthier, more sustainable, ingredients. Even the fast-food giants are putting considerable manufacturing, and marketing, resources into healthier products -- Burger King’s plant-based “Impossible Burger” and Subway’s new “Beyond Meatball Marinara” sub are just two recent examples. 

We’re also seeing increasing numbers of start-up and emerging food brands that are based firmly on the principles of health and sustainability. These have a compelling story to tell, and the likely further restrictions on HFSS foods will leave a media vacuum for them to move into. 

However, that is easier said than done. First, these challenger brands will need to adopt the modern media techniques of the food and drink behemoths of the world, which have already innovated and trialled data-driven approaches across multiple media channels.

Smaller, more purpose-based brands might not feel they have much in common with the likes of Mars and McDonald’s, but the adoption of media techniques such as (to name just three) audience planning, location marketing, and mood-based targeting could help fresher, more progressive brands grow while the restrictions tighten on their larger rivals.  

Take, for instance, Mars brand Snickers, which re-launched its successful 'You're Not You When You're Hungry' campaign with a clever media idea that involved Spotify and serving advertising to audiences at specific times when they were listening to music outside of their normal habits, and offering links to music from more familiar genres.

Or McDonald’s, which has consistently made creative use of digital posters combined with location, weather and traffic data to reach people when they’re likely to be most receptive.

If young, emerging, food brands really want to disrupt the food industry, and in the process help to provide healthier lunch boxes for our children, then they should be looking to this type of audience-focused and data-driven approach in order to become more savvy in their media tactics.

Meanwhile, any HFSS brands facing further restrictions will have to wholeheartedly embrace data planning for their media, in order to keep communicating with their (adult) customers through paid media.

Either way, data-driven media is set to become even more important for food and drink brands this school year.



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