The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have published the findings from their fourth monitoring sweep, as part of a year-long project to identify and tackle age-restricted ads appearing in children’s online media. Whilst the overwhelming majority of age-restricted ads are targeted responsibly in online media, targeting audiences heavily weighted (75 %+) to adult audiences, a minority end up in children’s online media.
Advertisers placing age-restricted ads online are required, under the Advertising Code, to take care to target their ads away from child audiences. In particular, that means websites and YouTube channels designed for children or that attract a disproportionately high child audience cannot carry age-restricted ads.
The latest report continued the CCTV-style scrutiny of online ads for: gambling, alcohol, e-cigarettes and tobacco, slimming and weight control products and bard and soft drinks classified as high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS products).
Since undertaking monitoring, the UK Government has announced new restrictions on the advertising of HFSS products on TV and online, which are due to take effect from the beginning of 2023. That policy shift does not change our responsibility to take action against HFSS ads placed, in breach of the current rules, in children’s media.
Between January and March 2021, using monitoring tools to capture age-restricted ads served on a sample of 49 websites and 12 YouTube channels attracting a disproportionately high child audience, the ASA found that:
- Overall, 158 age-restricted ads broke the advertising rules; and
- In total, 41 advertisers placed age-restricted ads in 33 websites and 8 YouTube channels aimed at, or attracting a disproportionately large, child audience.
A breakdown of ads by product category that broke the rules reveals:
- 7 alcohol adsby 3 advertisers on 8 websites
- 29 ads by 3 advertisers on 17websites
- 117 adsby 31 advertisers on 31 websites and 8 YouTube channels
- 5 adsby 4 advertisers on 4 websites
- No ads for e-cigarettes or tobacco products were picked up during this monitoring period
ASA preliminary inspection of the data suggests that the majority of advertisers who they identified breaking the rules in earlier monitoring sweeps have not reoffended. The ASA has warned the advertisers who they have caught in this latest sweep to review and, as necessary, amend their practices to ensure they target future ads responsibly.
Throughout the last year, harnessing innovative monitoring technology as part of the ASA five-year strategy, More Impact Online, has proved effective in helping them identify and tackle irresponsibly placed ads for age restricted products at scale and speed to better protect children.
This project remains just one part of a wider set of initiatives they’re undertaking to ensure children are protected online. The ASA will continue to work with the ad industry, including platforms such as YouTube, to expand on their CCTV-style work.
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