Government plans to ban online ads for foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar are a "kick in the teeth" and will do "untold harm" to the industry at an "economically precarious time", industry trade associations have warned.
The Advertising Association, ISBA, IPA and IAB accused the government of setting out "headline-grabbing proposals" as it prepares to launch a consultation to ban all online ads for HFSS products today.
The joint statement said that an outright ban will be a "huge blow" to UK advertising at a time when it is already "reeling" from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
It added: "The proposal to completely outlaw online advertising of certain food and drink is a severe and disproportionate measure that goes far beyond the government's objective of protecting children.
"Instead, it will do untold harm to the UK's vitally important creative sector and food and drink businesses at an economically precarious time."
The latest AA/Warc Expenditure Report expects a 10% decline in spend over the fourth quarter of this year – a time that has traditionally seen increased adspend because of the festive period.
The statement continued: "This consultation has landed just as we have entered another period of lockdown, with all the heightened uncertainty this creates for people and businesses right across the country.
"Businesses that should be devoting their time and energy to surviving this economically unpredictable situation will now have to devote precious resources to responding to the government and working out whether they will even be able to advertise their products in future.
"To borrow the Prime Minister's language, this is not an 'oven-ready' policy; it is not even half-baked. But it does have all the ingredients of a kick in the teeth for our industry from a government which we believed was interested in prioritising economic growth alongside targeted interventions to support health and wellbeing."
The statement called for ministers to start engaging meaningfully with the industry to develop solutions based on evidence.