The HFSS Ad Ban: 6 Ways Brands Can Thrive

Posted by: Megan Harrison - 30.05.22

HFFS Update


Plans for this year’s junk food advertising ban have been shelved – until 2024, at least. 

While the delay gives brands scrambling to reformulate their products a welcome breather, we mustn’t forget the HFSS rules will represent some of the toughest restrictions in the world. Now isn’t the time for food and drinks brands to sit on their hands.

Marketing strategies and consumer loyalties will be put to the test, but with the right plan of action, we believe the regulations could create new brand-building opportunities for forward-thinking businesses.

A handy HFSS reminder

Not sure what’s what? Fear not. Here’s a quick reminder.

As part of its mission to halve childhood obesity by 2030, the Government will bring in new measures and regulations for products that are high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS). Basically, all the really delicious ones. 

The new rules will restrict where and when HFSS food and drinks can be marketed in stores, online and on TV. In fact, it’s estimated that the changes will affect one in five convenience purchases1 and could cost the industry £1bn to £3bn.2

The new HFSS marketing rules in a nutshell:

  • HFSS products include thousands of items covering soft drinks, cakes, chocolate, sweets, pastries, yoghurts, pizza, ready meals, and more (pretty much the whole Impulse category, plus large parts of Bakery, Prepared Chilled, Processed Meats and Frozen Foods). Check out the HFSS products in scope.
  • Stores over 2000 sq. ft or with over 50 staff will not be allowed to sell HFSS products in the store entrance, on aisle ends, or within 2m of checkouts.
  • Volume driven promotions will also be banned (e.g. Extra Free, 2 For 1’s, Multibuys, etc.).
  • On TV, HFSS adverts will only be allowed between 9 pm and 5.30 am.
  • The ban also applies online to all paid-for advertising (except digital-only audio) such as search and social, video, in-app, in-game, etc.

It’s going to be a test, no doubt. But we believe that with the right strategies, brands can not only minimise the ban’s impact on sales but actually find opportunities for growth.  

Six ideas for surviving and thriving after the HFSS ad ban

1. Reformulate your product

One way to avoid the ban is to change your product to make it non-HFSS, based on The Nutrient Profiling Model. Of course, reformulation isn’t without its challenges. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and brands need to be careful to recreate the signature sensory experience consumers expect from products they’ve enjoyed for many years.

For example, PepsiCo reformulated its entire Snack A Jacks range last year so that three flavours became non-HFSS, with more to soon follow. 3

Kellogg’s also vowed to cut sugar content by 10% across its kids’ cereals, making them non-HFSS by the end of 2022, and reduce salt in its cereals by at least 20% by the same date.4

“People are rightly demanding more from companies like ours and everyone expects good food to do a world of good too…

But the impact of our food is much broader than just what goes in the box. It’s about how we grow our ingredients and the impact we have on the planet and how we cook and make our food.”

Kellogg’s UK vice president Chris Silcock.

Other brands are going beyond salt and sugar reductions by switching ingredients entirely.

KIND’s new Breakfast Almond Butter bar will be HFSS compliant by switching nuts with oats, millet, buckwheat, amaranth and quinoa.5

While reformulation is an option for some brands, some of the time, reconfiguring products can often be an easier route than completely rethinking them from scratch. 

2. Reconfigure your product

If changing the recipe is off the table, altering the portion size could be another way to provide consumers with a healthier way to consume the foods they love. While the product may remain in the HFSS category, the benefits of offering consumers a more appealing way to consume their favourite treats could greatly offset the new regulations’ impact.

Our brief was to shift cake lovers’ perceptions by helping them see that while Mr Kipling cakes are the ideal way to celebrate, the new range of Mini Pies & Tarts is perfect for everyday sharing

3. Focus on healthier offerings

According to IRI, 78% of HFSS manufacturers also produce products that won’t fall within the scope of the new regulations.If you’re in this group, it’s worth considering whether your ‘better for you’ products could become the new heroes of your marketing campaign.

For example, when Premier Foods – owners of Mr Kipling, Ambrosia, Angel Delight and many other well-known brands – wanted to enter the crowded plant-based snacking space, they knew their new Plantastic range needed to truly stand out. 

We blended brand strategy, agility and creativity to design a consumer-focused message for Plantastic that appeals to a health-conscious, go-getter audience that loves to celebrate life’s victories, no matter how big or small.

Plenty of brands with traditional HFSS product offerings have launched new ranges to minimise the ban’s disruption and capitalise on growing healthy consumer trends. KETTLE baked bread bites and Mars Triple Treat high-fibre, fruit and nut chocolate bar are some of the latest non HFSS products joining our shelves.

4. Put more into purpose-driven advertising

Under the new rules, brands will still be allowed to advertise pre-9 pm and online as long as they don’t show specific HFSS products. With this in mind, what’s the most creative and engaging way to build your brand without pushing a particular product?

Not sure where to start? Read this article for three top tips on how to strengthen your brand.

Research has shown that young people between 16 and 34 are especially receptive to purpose-driven ads that connect to important societal issues.7

For example, Cadbury’s ‘Donate Your Words’ ad campaign aimed to help tackle the problem of loneliness among older people by shining a light on their extraordinary lives and experiences. 

And if purpose-led brand communications feel like a bit of a risk, there’s always the option of simply promoting joy. Just think of arguably one of the most memorable adverts ever, also by Cadbury’s, in which an impassioned orangutan belted out Sussidio (is that right?).

5. Explore new channels

TV and online might be a no-go much of the time for HFSS products once the new rules kick in, but advertising on digital-only audio will still be allowed. Could audio-only adverts featuring jingles or ‘sonic logos’ fit into your campaign strategy?

Experience-led publicity stunts are another option. For example, McDonald’s recently celebrated its signature ice cream turning 21 by offering a McFlurry Van to at-home birthday parties. 

The HFSS regulations could also motivate you to invest more time and creativity into how you use social media to build your brand persona. Fast-food chains, particularly in the US, are already well-known for their sassy Twitter presence. HFSS brands could adopt similar tactics to stand out online.

Red Bull is a prime example of a company that uses non-traditional content to build its brand without directly focusing on its HFSS product. Its sponsorship of talented athletes across sports ranging from snowboarding to cliff-diving has made the drinks brand synonymous with adventure and high-octane experiences.

6. Emphasise purposeful occasions and moments

A core aim of the HFSS advertising regulations is reducing impulse purchasing of less healthy products. With that being the case, the question is how to shift your product away from being an impulse buy, towards being a planned purchase

We’ve already mentioned one way to do this (Mr Kipling’s shareable ‘Mini’ range). Another is to rethink how you frame the purpose of your product in consumers’ minds. In other words, help them imagine exactly when they will need and want it, and how it will help them at that moment.

For example:

  • “Want a boost after exercise? Have a treat.”
  • “Need an escape at your desk? Go for the tastier option.”

Giving your audience ideas on how they can enjoy your products helps them plan their purchases ahead of time. 

Now is the perfect time to look at your customer’s journeys and need states with fresh eyes, knowing that convenience and impulsiveness will be less influential after the new rules come into force.

Time to make a plan

A ‘slim’ majority of the British public supports a ban on online ads (57%) and TV ads (58%) promoting HFSS products.8

Marketers also have mixed feelings. Some have called the regulations a ‘stupid, idiotic, pointless waste of effort’9, but polling of the UK’s most senior marketers showed that more than half believe current regulations around HFSS products are not fit for purpose and would back tougher restrictions.10

In any case, change is coming, and HFSS brands need to prepare and test new marketing ideas and methods sooner rather than later. 

To guide your strategy, it’s worth gaining a fresh understanding of how your products affect your audience, not just nutritionally but emotionally and socially

After all, it’s these benefits, communicated through the right creative efforts and strategic channels, that will keep consumers buying and enjoying your products long into the future.

Need a hand with shaping your brand strategy or developing creative with HFSS rules in mind?

Get in touch. We’ll supply the tea if you bring the HFSS snacks (strictly for discussion purposes, of course).