ASA urges improved use of targeting tools to minimise child exposure

ASA has called for advertisers to minimise children’s exposure to age-restricted adverts through improved use of targeting tools.

The Advertising Standards Association has called for adult-content advertisers to minimise children’s exposure to age-restricted adverts through improved use of audience and media targeting tools. 

Directed to alcohol, gambling, and high fat, salt or sugar advertisers, the plea follows ASA’s latest ‘monitoring sweep’ of online advertising platforms measuring the coverage of age-restricted adverts to UK audiences, which focused its monitoring on high-volume ‘mixed-age online platforms’ such as YouTube attracting a large proportion of non-logged users.

Utilising six age-configured ‘Avatars’, ASA’s sweep measured the distribution of ‘dynamically served ads’ of alcohol, gambling, and HFSS content served across mixed-age platforms.

The ASA noted: “The Avatars are constructed to reflect the online browsing profile of these age groups, but their automated actions – visiting 250 web pages on both desktop and mobile devices, twice a day – are obviously not indicative of real-world online behaviours.” 

Adult advertisers are not allowed to serve age-restricted ads in children’s media (sites commissioned for children, or where children make up 25 per cent or more of the audience), but ads are allowed in mixed-age media attracting a heavily weighted adult audience –  75 per cent.

The ASA claimed that the ‘underlying technology’ used by advertisers should enable for target subsets to be set on platforms’ audiences with regards to age, locations and browsing interests.

Monitoring platforms, ASA revealed that its six age-categorised Avatars received 27,395 ads, published on 250 sites, over a three-week monitoring period. Results found that Gambling ads were served in similar numbers to child and adult avatars, with no significant skew towards the adult profiles.

“We call on advertisers to make better use of targeting tools to minimise children’s exposure to dynamically served age-restricted ads,” stated ASA chief executive, Guy Parker.

“And we call on third parties involved in the distribution of these ads to ensure the data and modelling on which those tools rely are as effective as they can be. 

“Finally, we will be exploring whether the report should lead to more prescriptive measures relating to dynamically-served age-restricted ads.

“This latest monitoring sweep is just one part of a wider set of initiatives where we’re harnessing technology, all with the aim of ensuring children are protected online.”

Meanwhile, the ‘neutral Avatar’ (which has no browsing history to provide indicative age information) was served noticeably fewer gambling ads across mixed-age digital platforms.

The high figures registered by the avatars ‘do not reflect a real-world exposure to advertising’, according to the ASA, yetthe organisation stated that the results have provided a need for a call on advertisers to make better use of targeting technology at its disposal.

This call comes a month after the ASA dismissed one complaint against Ladbrokes, which considered a reference to the film The Goonies was likely to be of particular appeal to those under 18 years of age.