Insights Advertising Standards Authority publishes findings from its third monitoring sweep in relation to age-restricted ads


The monitoring sweeps that the ASA has been undertaking are part of a year-long project to identify and tackle age-restricted ads appearing in children’s online media. Advertisers placing age-restricted ads online are required, under the Advertising Code, to target their ads away from child audiences. In particular, that means that websites and YouTube channels designed for children or that attract a disproportionately high child audience cannot carry age-restricted ads.

This latest report continues the ASA’s CCTV-style scrutiny of online ads for: gambling, alcohol, e-cigarettes and tobacco, slimming and weight control products and food and soft drinks classified as high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS products). Following the first and second reports, the ASA says that it is encouraged by the lower number of ads found to have broken the rules. In particular, there has been a significant fall in the number of HFSS ads appearing in children’s online media. Across the websites and channels monitored, there was a 74% fall in HFSS ads on the previous quarter.

Over the three-month period, between October and December 2020, 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, 47 age-restricted ads broke the advertising rules; and
  • In total, 21 advertisers placed age-restricted ads in 23 websites and eight YouTube channels aimed at, or attracting a disproportionately large, child audience.

The ASA will be taking follow-up action to contact the advertisers to secure the removal of the problem ads. It has also warned the advertisers to review and, as necessary, amend their practices to ensure they target future ads responsibly.

Ads for gambling, alcohol and weight reduction stayed at their previous levels. The progress the ASA expected to see in terms of improved compliance of HFSS ads with the rules was significant. Follow-up work with HFSS advertisers found in breach of the rules and their block listing of monitored sites appear to have had a positive impact on reducing the number of breaches, and the regulator says that it expects to see further improvements in the January to March 2021 monitoring it is undertaking now.

Once the ASA has run the monitoring again in Q1 2021, it will publish a final report in the summer, reflecting back on this year-long project and in which the ASA reserves the discretion to publicise repeat offenders, if there are any. The ASA says that it will also consider the same or similar monitoring in the future, taking action where age-restricted ads are served on child-orientated websites and YouTube channels. To read the ASA’s press release in full, click here.