ASA utilises ‘avatars’ to identify gambling ads targeted at children

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently reprimanded five operators concerning ads found to be targeted at children in breach of UK Advertising Codes.

The ads were identified over the course of a two-week monitoring period in 2018 by seven virtual ‘avatars’, described by the ASA as “online profiles which simulate children’s browsing activity“. The avatars, which were deployed across 24 children’s websites and 20 open-access YouTube channels, were exposed to ads from 43 operators during the monitoring period. The ASA considered that 23 individual ads (appearing a total of 151 times across 11 children’s websites) targeted children and, as a result, banned the use of those ads from the five responsible gambling operators.

The use of avatars represents a new phase of increased reliance on technology to protect children and vulnerable people from irresponsible ads and is part of the ASA’s ‘More Impact Online’ strategy to improve the regulation of online advertising. The ASA has stated that it will issue a more detailed report on its findings later in the year and is exploring how to expand the use of avatars to ‘logged-in’ platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

These findings highlight that the ASA is taking a pro-active, streamlined approach in targeting irresponsible ads. Operators should therefore ensure that their online marketing materials (including material published through marketing campaigns organised on their behalf by third-party companies) comply with UK Advertising Codes – particularly given that since October 2018 it has been a condition of operators’ licence conditions to comply.

Operators are also reminded that the ASA’s guidance ‘Gambling advertising guidance: Protecting children and young people‘ entered into force on 1 April 2019.