Transport for London (TfL) has recently made headlines for banning advertisements featuring an artisanal cheese company from its transport network.
The decision was based on the grounds that these ads were promoting an unhealthy diet.
In this article, we will dissect the situation, explore the reasons behind TfL’s decision, and examine the response it has generated.
The Rejected Advertisements: Workspace’s Promotion
The adverts in question were put forward by Workspace, a business premises provider.
These posters featured three panels that read: “From crunching numbers to selling cheese online, it all happens at Workspace.”
The visual components included an image of a hand typing at a calculator and another showcasing cheese.
Additionally, the names of two Workspace tenants were displayed – an accountancy company and a London-based online cheese shop known as Cheesegeek.
TfL’s Decision and Cheesegeek’s Reaction
Despite their seemingly innocuous content, TfL rejected these advertisements under their stringent rules aimed at combatting obesity.
Cheesegeek’s founder and CEO, Edward Hancock, expressed strong disapproval of this decision.
He labeled it “ridiculous” and argued that it unfairly classifies cheese as unhealthy, placing it “alongside genuine junk food.”
Hancock emphasized TfL’s stance on high saturated fat content in cheese as the reason for the rejection.
He acknowledged TfL’s intention to promote healthy eating but criticized their “binary” approach as overly simplistic.
He pointed out the inconsistency in allowing advertisements for alcohol and soft drinks while banning those related to cheese.
The Global Perspective and Implications
Hancock also highlighted the potential negative impact of such decisions on public perception.
He argued that such actions make London appear out of touch with global attitudes towards cheese consumption, particularly in continental Europe.
This, in turn, may lead people to believe that cheese is harmful and should be avoided.
TfL’s Advertising Policy and Response
TfL’s advertising policy outlines that an advert will not be approved if it promotes food or non-alcoholic drinks that are high in fat, salt, and/or sugar, according to the Nutrient Profiling Model managed by Public Health England.
In response to the Cheesegeek advertisement, a TfL spokesperson stated that it did not comply with their advertising policy, which is based on the Food Standards Agency’s model for defining unhealthy foods.
It’s worth noting that TfL found the rest of the advertising campaign for Workspace compliant, with four different creatives set to run on their network.
Controversy Surrounding TfL’s Advertising Policies
TfL’s strict advertising policies have faced criticism in the past. In July, an advert for the West End play “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” was removed from London’s transport network due to its depiction of a wedding cake.
This decision was criticized as “totally bizarre” by Emma Best, deputy leader of the City Hall Conservatives, who believed it contradicted the goal of promoting culture in London.
However, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan defended the decision, stating that it aligned with TfL’s rules to prevent unhealthy foods from being displayed across the network.
In August, posters for another West End musical, “Operation Mincemeat,” were banned due to concerns that their design resembled graffiti and could encourage “wider acts of vandalism.”
Balancing Health and Free Expression
The case of TfL’s ban on the artisanal cheese company’s adverts highlights the ongoing challenge of striking a balance between promoting public health and allowing free expression in advertising.
While TfL’s intentions to combat obesity are commendable, the rigidity of their advertising policies and the controversies they generate underscore the complexity of navigating such issues in a diverse and dynamic urban environment.