The Advertising Standards Authority has reasserted a pledge to harness innovative technology to tackle misleading or irresponsible ads as the self-regulatory organisation publishes the findings of its latest online monitoring sweep.

Aiming to identify and tackle age-restricted ads appearing in children’s media; across a three month period the ASA found that 159 age-restricted ads broke the advertising rules, 70 of which were betting adverts.

In total, 35 advertisers were found to have placed age-restricted ads on 34 websites and five YouTube channels aimed at or attracting a disproportionately large child audience.

Breaking down the figures across five product categories, the aforementioned beaches across the gambling sector were reported as emanating from four unidentified operators and appeared on eight websites.

Advertisements for food and soft drinks classified as high in fat, salt or sugar were reported as the most prevalent with 78 different ads from 29 advertisers appeared on 24 websites and five YouTube channels.

However, the watchdog noted that “while HFSS ads should be targeted away from children and children’s media, the ASA’s monitoring picked up on a broad diversity of HFSS ads which broke the rules, with the majority being unlikely to appeal to children”.

Further breaches saw ten alcohol adverts from one brand appear on one website, one e-cigarette ad also appearing on one website, and zero breaches concerning slimming and weight control products.

In the first phase of a year-long project the ASA said that it has taken a “CCTV-style watch” and identified 49 websites and seven YouTube channels using data collated Nielsen’s media monitoring tools.

The group will run this monitoring exercise quarterly over the next twelve months, and has vowed to take action against any repeat offenders that are identified as it aims to build “a zero-tolerance culture to age-restricted ads in children’s media”.

Guy Parker, ASA chief executive, explained: “The ASA is using technology to proactively monitor online ads to help build a culture of zero tolerance for age-restricted ads appearing on websites aimed at children. 

“We expect advertisers and the parties they contract with to use the sophisticated tools available to them to target their ads responsibly. This is just one part of a wider set of initiatives we’re undertaking to ensure children are protected online and we’ll report on our further work in this area in the coming months.”