Domino's Simpsons sponsorship falls foul of Ofcom for promoting 'unhealthy' food to kids

LONDON - Ofcom has ruled that Domino's Pizza's sponsorship of 'The Simpsons' on Sky One was in breach of broadcasting codes on the basis that the brand-focused idents promoted food high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) to children.

A Domino's spokesman told Brand Republic: "Although we no longer sponsor the Simpson's, we are disappointed with the Ofcom ruling against Sky.

"Despite having decided to terminate this sponsorship prior to the complaint, we had worked hard with Sky's compliance unit to come up with idents that were within the spirit and the letter of Ofcom's regulations."

The content of the sponsorship breaks had already been adapted to avoid flouting rules governing the advertising of food to children, by switching from a focus on Domino's products to a focus on its services such as online pizza ordering. The company also pointed out that children are not its target market -- which is 18-34 year-olds.

However, Ofcom today revealed the sponsorship, which expired at the end of last year when the brand decided not to extend its association, was still in breach.

Ofcom was originally approached by the National Heart Forum, which complained that Domino's "appears to be avoiding the restriction on HFSS advertising or sponsorship by simply not showing the pizza product during the sponsor's credits around the programme".

The sponsorship idents did not show pizza itself, but did depict the pizza-ordering process, including showing ingredients being sprinkled onto a pizza base.

Sky told Ofcom that, following the implementation of the BCAP requirements governing HFSS food, it had carefully considered whether the Domino's sponsorship was compliant and concluded it did not breach the letter or spirit of the rules.

The broadcaster made a number of points supporting its position, including that 'The Simpsons' does not exclusively target children, who it said typically make up 28% of its audience; that none of the sponsorship credits showed an actual pizza; and that 47% of Domino's products are not HFSS.

However, Ofcom's investigation concluded that when 'The Simpsons' aired between 7pm and 9pm during the first quarter of 2008, it attracted a "significant child audience" and was therefore subject to HFSS rules.

The watchdog also concluded that, while it was clear that credits were focused on specifically promoting Domino's pizza delivery service and did not feature "any one complete pizza", it was clear that "the sponsorship of 'The Simpsons' on Sky One promotes not only the Domino's Pizza delivery service, but also its pizzas".

Finally, Ofcom said that, while it acknowledged Sky's assertion that 47% of Domino's products were non-HFSS, that the idents did not refer to the delivery of anything other than pizza and that the majority of its pizzas constituted HFSS foods. It concluded that the deal contravened rule 4.2.1(b) of the BCAP Rules on the Scheduling of Television Advertisements, and was accordingly in breach of rule 9.3 of the Broadcasting Code.

The Domino's spokesman continued: "As a company, we take our social responsibility very seriously and, although we could have shown one of a number of non-HFSS pizzas, decided to focus solely on the ordering and delivery process, not the product.

"Having made such efforts to comply and worked so hard to act responsibly, it is frustrating to see the ruling go against Sky."

Domino's also sponsored the second series of ITV1's 'Britain's Got Talent' last spring, enjoying audiences well above 10m each week. However, the programme's predominantly adult profile is such that HFSS rules do not apply.

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