HFSS doughnut

What will the ban on HFSS advertising mean for your brand?

While there may be a delay in its implementation, the UK government is set to introduce legislation that will restrict the advertising of products that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS).

Ads will not be able to run on TV until 9pm. On non-broadcast media, including social media, this will mean bans on paid advertising appearing in any media that’s specifically targeted to children under 16 – or where under 16s comprise more than 25% of the audience. 

Even ads that don’t feature HFSS products can still be treated as if they were promoting a HFSS product if the branding is similar, like a shared logo or character.

But, it’s not a total ban on mentioning HFSS products. 

You can still advertise your HFSS products on digital audio platforms (like online-only radio), point-of-sale ads (like online banners on the retail site), and on your owned media like websites – as well as in organic social media content, rather than paid.

The impact on brands and agencies

According to The Guardian, brands spend an estimated £400m each year on advertising food products online and on TV, and this ban could cost major broadcasters £200m pa in lost revenue.

The UK Government predicts that the ban will cost businesses £4.2m as they adapt to the regulations. It’s expected to cost £4.6bn in lost revenue for online platforms and mean a £66m blow for advertising agencies that would usually place these ads. It also believes that retailers would see a £27.5m reduction in profits for retailers and manufacturers of HFSS products.

How will this impact your brand?

  1. You’ll need to rethink your strategy for paid advertising. It’s not as simple as thinking that you can switch your paid advertising to social channels. For example, TikTok lists paid HFSS content as prohibited in the UK. (Your brand can still use paid ads, as long as no HFSS products – or branding that linked to them – features in the ad.) So, you’ll need to work with both legal and marketing teams to find out the best way to continue to use paid ads for your HFSS products.
  2. A shift in focus to organic content. Focus on how you can best use your social channels to create engaging and creative content. Continue to use these channels to cultivate consumers’ connections to your brand. It will mean a shift from looking at instant results, to long-term relationship building. 
  3. Create more content that uses storytelling and emotion. It’s the best way to build long-term relationships that generate word-of-mouth and sales. Engage with followers pro-actively. Find fun ways to enhance their experiences in online communities and social platforms. 
  4. Invest in data analysis to stay ahead of trends and find natural connections. Using data can help you find the perfect opportunities to connect with people. Social listening will help you find ways to provide things that people want, when they want it rather than following behind current trends.
  5. Change the way you work with influencers. While you can still work with influencers in paid ad campaigns, you’ll need to work with them at the brand level and not advertise your HFSS products in the content created. Influencers can still talk about these products in brand-owned spaces, however (like the retail website). Influencers who advocate for the brand for free in user-generated content can continue to do so, but your brand shouldn’t offer things like free products in exchange for favourable content.
  6. Promote conscious consumerism. Look at how you can start encouraging people to buy your products as part of planned purchases, rather than to satisfy an impulse. Get people to think about why they want your product by getting to know online communities and understanding how your products fit into their lives. For example, an adult may buy doughnuts as a treat for the household at the end of a busy week. Understanding why and how consumers choose your product will help you encourage them to keep choosing your products over your competitor’s.

The HFSS changes sound intimidating, but really, you need to focus on three core areas to help your brand navigate these new rules. 

  • Focus on long-term brand building. 
  • Build these loyal communities using organic social media.
  • Proactively engage people to extend your brand’s reach.

While this is going to be a big change for brands that sell HFSS products, if you put the right strategies in place, it will prove to be a positive one.


Thank you to our social and community engagement manager Sarah Dear for her research and contribution to this post.
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