By Dan Parker, Chief Executive, Living Loud

This question lies at the very heart of the Government’s Impact Assessment on introducing advertising restrictions to products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS).  To answer that question the Government turned to Kantar Consulting to analyse the available data for online advertising.

The Kantar analysis concludes that the 12 million children[1] in the UK are exposed to a total of 730 million adverts for HFSS products online each year; a little over one per week per child.

This just didn’t feel right. One advert in a week when the average kids spends over 2 hours online each day?[2] I spent 25 years working in digital advertising; I ran countless campaigns for big food companies and was one of the founders of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) report on which much of this analysis is based. In the Impact Analysis, the Department of Health and Department of Culture, Media and Sport acknowledged this figure was likely to be an underestimate. But by how much?

So I teamed up with Dr Mimi-Tatlow Golden, the Co-Director of The Open University’s Centre for Children and Young People’s Wellbeing and lead author World Health Organization report Tackling food marketing to children in a digital world: trans-disciplinary perspectives. Together we studied the methodology, reviewed the sources and cross checked the key assumptions.

The Kantar analysis concludes that the food and drink industry spend only £89.7m on online advertising per year. This is based on Nielsen AdDynamix data which the industry itself agrees only captures a fraction of online spend. We found numerous sources including the Advertising Association, WARC, IAB, Group M and even other Nielsen data which sets the spend at close to ten time that figure. By the time we factored in other evident inaccuracies we concluded that the Kantar analysis of food and drink industry online media spend was at least 16 times less than the actual likely spend.

That would mean our kids see more like 2-3 adverts for HFSS products per day, which certainly is more in line with my 9-year old’s daily online experience.

Yet still this isn’t even half the story, as Kantar’s approach only covers spend on “conventional” online advertising, and online is anything but conventional.

Online advertising has moved from conventional “interruptive” advertising to forms where the advertising is “integrated” in to the content and user experience. Think influencer marketing, advergaming and brand’s own social media channels. The WARC itself writes that these forms of brand activation are estimated to be worth 3 times the size of the advertising market as a whole[3].

For these reasons, children and young people’s actual exposure to digital HFSS marketing is, we consider, grossly underestimated by the Kantar analysis. Therefore, the savings and benefits to children’s health, wider society and the public purse will be significantly greater than estimated in the Impact Assessment.

Before the Government goes ahead with any new policy it is right that it weighs up the potential costs and benefits. But when we are dealing with something as important as children’s future health, it is vital that the data they are using does not underplay the benefits.

Read our full analysis here.




[1] Office for National Statistics,

[2] OFCOM, Children & parents : media use and attitudes report 2018

[3] WARC, 2018,