News Children's Food Campaign

Advertising watchdog shows red card to Papa John's Pizza marketing campaign

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint by the Children’s Food Campaign around Papa John’s Pizza marketing messages sent to football followers via digital calendar fixtures for the English Football League (EFL) Trophy during autumn 2022.

Junk food. Copyright: Lightspring | Shutterstock

Junk food. Copyright: Lightspring | Shutterstock

The Children’s Food Campaign welcomes the ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority Council (ASA) that Papa John’s Pizza and the English Football League (EFL) breached the advertising code for inserting marketing offers for HFSS products into the calendar fixtures of young fans under 16.

Fans of all clubs participating in the EFL Trophy fixtures on 18 October 2022 received a 50% off pizza offer via calendar notifications, including those following the eventual trophy winner Bolton Wanderers, runners up Plymouth Argyle, Stevenage, Bradford City, Burton Albion and under-21 sides of premier league teams including Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Leeds United.

An investigation took more than one year from the initial complaint to the final ruling by the ASA council. The ruling states, “The ads, which contained promotional offers for HFSS products, had therefore been sent to a number of individuals under the age of 16. For that reason, we considered the EFL and Papa John’s had not taken reasonable steps to exclude under-16s from the audience, and that the ads had been directed at children through the selection of media in which they appeared. We therefore concluded that they breached the Code.”


The EFL and Papa John’s Pizza were told not to run this promotion again, however the 3-year sponsorship deal for the EFL Trophy ended in summer 2023 and was not renewed.


Barbara Crowther, Children’s Food Campaign Manager at Sustain says:

“We’re very pleased that the ASA has shown the red card to Papa John’s Pizza for putting junk food ads into football fans’ calendars. It was totally intrusive for anyone just wanting to follow their favourite team, and especially for children under 16. The EFL age-gating failed to protect young fans from this promotion, and those who had opted out of receiving additional marketing communications still got these notifications. That’s why we called a foul and reported it to the ASA. We hope this case sets a useful precedent for protecting all sporting fans from future marketing activity.

We are pleased to see that the EFL has now ended its sponsorship deal with Papa John’s Pizza, and it’s time for the government to blow the whistle and kick junk food marketing out of sport for good.”

15-year-old Rizan, an activist with Bite Back, the youth movement for a healthier food system says:

"I see it as ironic that a junk food company like Papa John’s would sponsor the EFL. It angers me as a football fan. So it's great to see the ASA use their powers to protect children from this type of aggressive junk food marketing."

90% of parents surveyed by the Children’s Food Campaign and Food Active say that the marketing of junk food via sport makes it harder to get their children to eat healthily. 86% support the government creating new laws to stop partnerships between junk food brands and sport. The findings were included as part of a report Kicking Junk Food Out of Sport documenting how many different food and drink companies use sport sponsorship to reach younger audiences with their brands, and to divert attention away from the poor nutritional impacts of their products.

Katharine Jenner, Director of the Obesity Health Alliance says: 

“These big multi-national companies will go to any lengths to target children with unhealthy food ads, and also to undermine attempts to regulate the harm they do. Research shows restricting junk food adverts on TV and online would significantly reduce the number of children with excess weight. 

“The ASA has a vital role in holding advertisers to account and we are delighted that, alongside this ruling, they are moving forward with producing guidance for the upcoming restrictions on ads for less healthy foods. There can be no more delays - the government must stop children from being bombarded with junk food ads.”

Beth Bradshaw of Food Active says:

“This case is an important reminder that sport continues to be used to promote less healthy food and drink to fans, including children, and many brands are increasingly using unsuspecting ways to do this such as personal calendars and other apps.

“It follows another ASA ruling last year to a complaint by Food Active and the Children’s Food Campaign, whereby the English Cricket Board and KP Snacks were caught sending emails containing sugary popcorn and crisps to under 16s as part of the Hundred cricket tournament.

 “We are pleased to see the ASA taking a stand on this inappropriate marketing, but it is clear that more robust measures are needed to protect children and young people.” 


Read the full ASA ruling

Read the report: Kicking Junk Food out of Sport 


Published Wednesday 20 December 2023

Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.

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