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Online ad ban would "destroy" businesses if extended to social media

The government’s ban on foods high in salt, sugar and fat (HSSF) being advertised online would have a huge impact for fish and chip shops if it extends to social media, the industry has said.

Proposals for tighter restrictions on the promotion of fast food were announced as part of The Queen’s Speech earlier this week. The move would see a ban on TV advertising before the 9pm watershed and a complete ban on online advertising.

When asked specifically about how the restrictions would impact social media, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said that this would be done "sensibly and proportionally”.

Any ban potentially means takeaways would be unable to post images of their food online and descriptive words like ‘delicious’ will be banned.

Bek Halil, owner of Bek’s Fish Bar in Darlaston, West Midlands, has spent much of the past year growing his business by advertising on social media channels. He says a ban would be a drastic change, commenting: “It would totally destroy our social media channels and could destroy a lot of small businesses. Where little takeaways like us do really well is on Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, as that’s where we reach customers and it gives us a real chance to grow our business.

“I can’t see the government going that far, I think it will just be a TV and online advertising ban, which we don’t do, we don’t have the budget to do that. How it will affect us though is if the corporates stop doing TV and online campaigns then it will push them down other avenues, like social media, where they will dominate and give us less chance to interact.”

Tony Forgione, owner of Captain’s in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, is equally disappointed with the ruling, saying his business has come to rely on the free advertising that social media offers. He comments: “Advertising has changed, I don’t do leaflet drops anymore, I don’t have menus in my shop anymore, it’s all about social media these days. Why does the government want to stifle business? It’s just getting harder and harder and harder.

“I’ll give you an example, this week we’re 22 years old, so I did a post on my Facebook re-enacting a picture of us on our opening day. It got over 400 likes and 18 shares. From what I understand, if the government passes this legislation, that won’t be allowed. How is that possible? It’s going to get to a point soon where we don’t live in a democracy. Where is it going to end?”

Established business Millers in Haxby, York, has become less reliant on social media recently and although owner Nick Miller doesn’t agree with an outright advertising ban, he believes there are other opportunities available to shops.

Nick comments: “Social media should be a tool to say whatever we want, it’s your freedom of speech to promote a business, a product or how your day is going. Having said that, we’ve moved away from Facebook, we’re using it less and less as the platform is very much pay to play anyway; gone are the days you can post something and get a lot of traction.

“For us, we’ve got our own app so we’ll send our customers a push notification to their phone to tell them what we’re doing. It’s essentially the same information that would go on an Instagram or Facebook post, but you know your customers are definitely going to get that and you’ve got a better chance of them engaging with it as they are already customers.

“I think that when one door closes, another one opens and someone will have an idea for a new platform or a new idea to reach people.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said it will respond to issues raised in the consultation and will “set out clearly what will be required of businesses”.

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