The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigated two complaints, one from The Children’s Food Campaign (Sustain), that a poster, seen on a bus stop near a primary school, the cadbury.co.uk/freddo website and two YouTube videos featuring imagery of Freddo the Frog, were ads for products high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) and directed at children.
The complaints also extended to a downloadable comic and audio book called The Missing Hop, which told the story of Freddo’s mission to hunt down his friend Toad’s missing hop.
Mondelez, trading as Cadbury, argued that the books were not ads for an HFSS product, did not include any Cadbury branding or the Freddo name in the title, and were intended to be read by parents while not being directly targeted at children.
Cadbury said the poster was mistakenly placed within 100 metres of a primary school due to an error by site owner JCDecaux.
It said its website was not focused on children under 16, did not have any child-friendly language, and its tone and presentation was not of any appeal to children, and was instead targeted at adults to enjoy with their family.
The company also argued that neither of the two YouTube ads, one for Freddo biscuits and the other a “call to action” to parents to visit the website, were of appeal to children.
Under current regulations, ads for HFSS products must not be directed at children, and no medium should be used to advertise such products if more than 25% of its audience is under 16.
The ASA said the proximity of the poster to the school was likely to mean that the ad’s audience was significantly skewed towards under-16s, and because of that it was directed at children through the context in which it appeared.
It also concluded that the website, including its promotions page, the comic and audio books and the two YouTube videos were all ads for an HFSS product but found that the promotions page and YouTube content were not directed at children.
In the case of Cadbury’s YouTube channels, the ASA acknowledged that it was not possible to know what proportion of their audience were under the age of 18 because they could also be watched by unregistered users or users who were not logged in.
It banned the poster, website, and comic and audio books in the forms complained about, adding: “We told Cadbury to take reasonable steps in future to ensure that HFSS product ads were not directed at children through the selection of media or the context in which they appeared.”
In July last year, the ASA banned ads on Cadbury’s website for a storybook titled The Tale Of The Great Easter Bunny featuring children hunting for Easter eggs coloured the same purple as the company’s branding, and an activity pack featuring an image of a rabbit holding a Cadbury-branded purple egg.
The latest ruling comes as ministers are due to consult on policies to reduce childhood obesity, including a watershed for unhealthy food adverts on TV, and how to regulate on-demand and online adverts.
Barbara Crowther, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, said: “In this case, the ASA was first alerted to a poster ad in late July 2018, and we sent a full complaint about the whole campaign a few weeks later. So this ruling comes many months after the event. Campaigns have still been allowed to run in the meantime, and the damage is done.
“Companies can just carry on misbehaving, knowing all the ASA will do is put them temporarily on the advertising naughty step. There are no major disincentives, no meaningful sanctions, and no punishments. If it doesn’t lead to better behaviour, then it’s not working.
“It’s time for the Government to show tough love - bring in proper regulation, plus serious fines for the rule-breakers.”