ASA ruling on McDonald’s advert featuring HFSS products

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An advert on television for a McDonald’s beef burger, broadcast on ITV2 at 1:50 pm on a Saturday afternoon during the film Nancy Drew, featured an image of a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese ® burger together with a voiceover. The advert was cleared by Clearcast with an ‘ex-kids’ scheduling restriction, which meant that it should not be shown in or around programmes made for, or specifically targeted at, children, because it featured a product that was high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS).

A complaint was made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) against ITV claiming that the advert for an HFSS product had been broadcast during a programme that was directed at or of particular appeal to children, and therefore it had been inappropriately scheduled.

ITV responded by saying that the film was neither targeted at nor principally directed towards children. They said they had assessed the evidence of both the commissioning intention of the film and the Nancy Drew books on which the film was based. They concluded that it would be more likely to appeal to teenagers over the age of 16 years than those under 16. They further explained that they had assessed the content of the film, which included relatively adult themes such as murder, kidnapping and psychological and physical attacks, and concluded that it was not principally directed at or commissioned for under 16s.

Furthermore, ITV said that they had shown the film four times in 2020 and data from those broadcasts showed that under-16s were consistently under-represented in the audience, and was therefore below the threshold at which the film would be considered to appeal particularly to children. From that data, combined with their assessment of the film’s content and commissioning intention, they concluded that it was not commissioned for, principally directed at, or of particular appeal to viewers under the age of 16.

The ASA investigated the advert under BCAP Code rule 32.5 but dismissed the complaint saying that although some of the intended audience would be under 16, the film was also directed at adults and families.  In addition, the data clearly demonstrated that the film had not been of particular appeal to audiences below the age of 16.

WM comment

This adjudication by the ASA provides guidance on when HFSS food adverts may be scheduled. It sets out a two-stage test to follow. First, what is the age range that the programme is ‘principally directed or commissioned for’ and second is there any substantiating audience data to back this up?