Insights Advertising Standards Authority publishes Quarter 1 2021 monitoring results on protecting children online


The ASA has published the findings from its fourth monitoring sweep, as part of a year-long project to identify and tackle age-restricted ads appearing in children’s online media. The ASA says that 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. 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 food and soft drinks classified as high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS products).

Since undertaking the 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 the ASA’s 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 eight YouTube channels aimed at, or attracting a disproportionately large, child audience.

A breakdown of ads by product category that broke the rules reveals:

  • alcohol: seven alcohol ads by three advertisers on eight websites;
  • gambling: 29 ads by three advertisers on 17 websites;
  • HFSS: 117 ads by 31 advertisers on 31 websites and eight YouTube channels;
  • weight reduction: five ads by four advertisers on four websites; and
  • smoking: no ads for e-cigarettes or tobacco products were picked up during this monitoring period.

The ASA says that its preliminary inspection of the data suggests that the majority of advertisers identified breaking the rules in earlier monitoring sweeps have not re-offended. The ASA has warned the advertisers caught in this latest sweep to review and, as necessary, amend their practices to ensure they target future ads responsibly. To read the ASA’s press release in full and for a link to the data, click here.