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13/12/2018 - Views

Response to the Mayor of London’s TfL Advertising Ban for HFSS products

The Mayor of London has announced in a unilateral move that advertising for foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) will be banned from the Transport for London (TfL) estate from February 25th 2019. 

The details of the ban are as follows, also published online at

  • Advertisements that directly feature food and/or non-alcoholic drink considered to be high in fat, sugar and salt will not be permitted.
  • A requirement for food and drink brands, restaurants, takeaways and ordering services to promote their healthier food and drink instead of just advertising their brand.
  • Incidental images, graphical representations and references to food and/or non-alcoholic drinks that promote the consumption of foods high in fat, sugar and salt will not be permitted.
  • Advertisements for food and non-alcoholic drink that are considered to be high in fat, salt, sugar may be considered for an exception by TfL if the advertiser can demonstrate, with appropriate evidence, that the product does not contribute to child obesity

The move is politically motivated and the Mayor’s response to the challenge of child obesity. This contrasts from the evidence-based stance taken by the Advertising industry, with regular communication from the Advertising Association and Outsmart on this issue, which highlights that the Out of Home industry has consistently self-regulated in terms of content and placement of ads, whilst Advertising Association research demonstrates that environmental factors have more impact on eating choices than advertising, for example production and social issues.

The OOH industry has also consistently maintained that we are open to further degrees of proportionate self-regulation and that advertising bans will not have the desired effect on obesity stats.

Outsmart has commented officially on the ban:

“This is a missed opportunity by the Mayor. These proposals are unlikely to work as they are based on flawed data and are not supported by Londoners. To truly tackle the issue of childhood obesity it requires a holistic plan that carries the full support of Londoners.

“For months, the advertising industry has been urging the Mayor to sit down with us and discuss how we could work together on a bigger, more ambitious plan to combat childhood obesity without harming TfL revenues. Unfortunately, he has chosen not to listen to us nor sadly, the majority of Londoners who think these proposals will be ineffective. 

“Our offer remains open. Let’s work together in the New Year to create an effective, evidence-based plan for the benefit of all our kids in London.”

The OOH industry plans all campaigns where there is an HFSS concern around the presence of schools (applying a self-regulated exclusion of 200 meters – larger than the suggested 100m zone). This has extended to each panel (in Route) having a log where there is proximity to the following locations (nurseries, zoos/theme parks/children’s attractions, childminding businesses).

We believe that advertising revenues up to £35m per year will be affected by the ban.

Many brands have improved the HFSS content in line with public perceptions and consumer consensus and we fully support such initiatives as the Collaboration for Healthy Lives in Southwark and other parts of London are conducting research to understand the impact advertising has on wider environment and behavioural influences. 

With the ban now coming into effect, advertisers have various options. These include…

  • to advertise non-HFSS or healthier products (mere branding will not be sufficient
  • to prove the exclusion criteria
  • to utilise numerous OOH formats and environments to deliver reach, proximity messaging and effective brand advertising, other roadside formats (e.g. InLink, New World digital payphones, 48s/D48s) or advertising in rail, mall and city centre environments, outside TfL authority, which we believe to account for over half of inventory in London, with Exterion and JCDecaux most affected.

There is no evidence to suggest the ban will be extended to regional transport or local authorities. There will likely be more consideration around revenues and less political necessity to make statement policies.

The industry continues to lobby this decision and even TfL are still coming to terms with the implications by holding further consultation next Friday (Nov 30th) at City Hall, after which we will understand more. 


Advertising drives the economy:

Every £1 spent on advertising generates £6 to UK GDP and so advertising is a driver of economic growth, generating more than £120bn per year for GDP, and also supports the wider creative industries. Nearly one million jobs in communities right across the country are supported by advertising services. The UK is a world-class hub for advertising, with the latest available figures also showing exports of British ad services reached a record high of £5.8bn in 2016.

Evidence based approach to action

Childhood Obesity is a multi-faceted and complex issue, with various causal factors but there is no easy solution and every intervention needs to be carefully considered. Whilst progress is being made, insofar as child obesity rates have stabilised over the past decade, everyone has a role to play in doing more. The Advertising industry works with Government on this vitally important issue. UK broadcasters are also committed to tackling the issue by promoting healthy lifestyles, helping to improve consumers’ dietary choices and encouraging exercise through their programming content and other initiatives. The current UK rules on HFSS advertising are proportionate, given the academic consensus on the modest impact of advertising on food preference, a link which Hastings put at 2%.

Advertising is already taking action (in OOH this was the 100m exclusion July 2017)

Since the 2016 childhood obesity plan, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) code for non-broadcast media has been revised to strengthen the protection for children both online and offline, across all media. The updated rules aim to prevent any advertisement for HFSS products being targeted at children under 16 through any medium; and bring them in line with the UK’s broadcast advertising rules which are described by Ofcom and Government as ‘amongst the strictest in the world’.