Senior connections planner at R/GA, Megan Jones, on the HFSS food advertising ban
The latest from industry bodies tells us that new regulations on junk food adverts will only reduce kids calorie consumption by 1.74 calories - or half a smartie. Megan Jones argues that we’re getting too caught up in the details instead of seeing the opportunity.
Our jobs are about moving things forwards. We take brands into different places, and reach new people by understanding culture. It’s when we do this that we create real value for our clients (and ultimately for us).
But when it comes to talk in the industry about the latest High Fat Sugar Salt (HFSS) regulations, including a pre-9pm TV and digital advertising ban for any brands considered HFSS, it reads that we’re scared of the future. And while this may be the short-term anxiety of living with the impact of Covid-19, where budgets are being cut and livelihoods are at risk, we’re at risk of forgetting how we actually create value.
And - for those that need reminding - the way we do that is by understanding culture. Right now there’s a tension between where culture is heading and where our industry is pushing brands. People are starting to understand the real implications of their weight: cancer, heart disease, diabetes. And they’re realising that while the odd treat now and then won’t harm their health, eating HFSS products continually is taking a toll on their health. And the government knows it too. The new regulations are designed to help people protect themselves and the NHS from what could be one the biggest health and economic risks to our nation: obesity.
This might seem worrying for marketers who have built careers exploiting behaviours to shift more junk food. You only have to watch the Premier League and see Dominos ads urging viewers to order delivery for half time to appreciate how our industry has created a link between cultural moments, like the footy or Saturday night telly and HFSS products. The association we’ve built in people’s minds has ultimately contributed to the health crisis we’re facing. And the reason we spent time and money doing that is because it worked.
But just because something worked in the past doesn’t mean it will do forever. In a world where we face more restrictions and changing cultural attitudes, we need to view these changes as a great opportunity, rather than our greatest threat. Nit-picking over half a smartie isn’t going to change the inevitable. Junk food advertising is going dark.
But in times of darkness, we’re perfectly poised to be the ray of light that helps our clients find their way. No one knows people and culture like us. This is an opportunity to change the briefs and the work for the better. We’re going to have to help HFSS brands understand how to maintain revenue while helping them discover what their brand could become in the future. What products should brands create? What’s the opportunity for your brand, given it’s heritage and value? Who do you target? Where do you show up and what do you say?
These are the challenges that we as a creative industry should be excited to work on. They will ensure we keep creating value for our clients while striving for a more human future. And they’re some of the biggest opportunities to impact culture. So let’s stop digging our heels in and open our arms to a new future for HFSS brands, and in turn our industry. A future that makes brands and people better.