The Advertising Standards Association (ASA) has urged adult-content advertisers to make better use of audience and media targeting tools to minimise children’s exposure to age-restricted adverts.
The plea – directed to alcohol, gambling, and high fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) advertisers – follows ASA’s latest ‘monitoring sweep’ of online advertising platforms measuring the coverage of age-restricted adverts to UK audiences.
During its latest sweep, ASA focused its monitoring on high-volume ‘mixed-age online platforms’ such as YouTube attracting a large proportion of non-logged users.
Adult advertisers are not allowed to serve age-restricted ads in children’s media (sites commissioned for children, or where children make up 25% or more of the audience), but ads are allowed in mixed-age media attracting a heavily weighted (75%+) adult audience.
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 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,” ASA disclosed.
ASA notes that the ‘underlying technology’ used by advertisers should enable for target subsets to be set on platform’s 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 broadly similar numbers to Child and Adult Avatars, with no significant skew towards the adult profiles.
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.
Gambling distribution reflected that of HFSS content, whilst alcohol ads were not served to any of ASA configured Avatars.
ASA noted that the high figures registered by its avatars ‘do not reflect a real-world exposure to advertising’. However, the results have provided a basis for ASA to call on advertisers to improve their targeting performance making better use of targeting technology available.
ASA Chief Executive Guy Parker stated: “We call on advertisers to make better use of targeting tools to minimise children’s exposure to dynamically served age-restricted ads. 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.”