Child virtual reality

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The metaverse is growing in significance with more “virtual world” activities and in-game advertising

In 2021, advertising and marketing underwent rapid change due to the pandemic and technological advances. This year, more nuanced developments are set to take place, shaped by socio-economic and cultural factors as well as regulators such as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). These must be taken on board when evaluating the advertising landscape.

With that in mind, here are the five crucial factors we believe will become more important in fmcg advertising in 2022 – and what they mean for the industry.

1. The HFSS crackdown will get real

During the pandemic, it became clear that people who are obese tend to suffer worse outcomes from Covid. The UK government had already been considering an obesity strategy, but after Boris Johnson’s stay in intensive care, he decided change was needed more swiftly. One direct consequence of this is the new food promotion regulations.

These come into force on 1 October 2022 and will heavily restrict promotions on HFSS foods. Hot on the heels of the regulations will be the Health and Care Bill, which will restrict advertising for HFSS foods both on television and online from January 2023.

As a result, we expect to see significant changes in the layout of supermarkets and retailers that are caught by the regulations. End-of-aisle displays and those located by the tills will need to be relocated to comply with the promotions regulations. The pre-watershed ban on HFSS advertising is likely to see a move to airtime being purchased after 9pm. The ban on paid-for space online may also result in brands spending more of their budgets on their own websites and social media platforms, but subject to all the current restrictions, which will remain in place.

2. Greenwashing will face greater scrutiny

Following the COP26 conference, greenwashing – the act of making unsubstantiated environmental claims in advertising or on packaging – is back in the news. Both the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) and the Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) have issued guidance on greenwashing this year, and the CMA’s Green Claims Code comes into force in January 2022.

The CAP has pointed out that expectations are rising for businesses to play a more prominent role in encouraging responsible consumption behaviours. Retailers and manufacturers will need to ensure claims on packaging or labelling, as well as in advertising, are clear, substantiated, and do not cherry pick the “more sustainable” parts of the product lifecycle.

3. Equality and diversity will take centre stage

Equality issues have also been a big topic this year. The George Floyd murder trial led to a re-evaluation of racism in wider society and the increased use of non-white actors in advertising. 

There is also a greater awareness of cultural appropriation, with the Dior ads that star Johnny Depp facing criticism for referencing Native Americans, while also coming under fire for their continued use after Depp lost his libel case against claims of domestic abuse in The Sun.

Awareness of these issues is not a passing trend or fashion, but part of a wider shift in attitudes, partly as a function of demographic changes. Advertisers need to be more diverse in their casting choices, not just on issues of gender and race, but also other issues, by including people with disabilities and including portrayals of families that are not the traditional ‘nuclear’ norm.

There may be some reactionary voices that will complain about ‘tokenism’ or accuse advertisers of being ‘woke’, but as the population of the country becomes increasingly diverse, it is natural and right for this diversity to be reflected in advertising.

4. Influencers won’t be exempt

Another trend set to continue in 2022 is the use of online influencers. Both brands and influencers alike must ensure social media posts are clearly marked as advertising. The ASA has lost patience this year with influencers failing to comply with the rules, and there have been suggestions influencers who can’t or won’t comply with the law should be prosecuted.

5. Be mindful of the metaverse

Finally, the metaverse is growing in significance with more “virtual world” activities and in-game advertising. There are already websites which allow users to create food dishes as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and other sites are being prepared, such as OneRare, which allow users the opportunity to farm their ingredients and sell them at virtual farmers’ markets in this metaverse. Such sites may act as an advertising tool for supermarkets and manufacturers in the future, but will raise their own challenges in terms of regulation.

Whatever happens, an interesting, and challenging, 2022 awaits advertisers in the fmcg sector.