The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has observed significant improvement by advertisers and platforms in ensuring that online ads for adult content are not displayed to children.
This observation follows an update to the insights of the ASA’s “The 100 Children Report,” initially published in November 2022. The report aimed to “provide real-world insights into children’s exposure to ads for alcohol, gambling, and other age-restricted content online via mobile phone and tablet devices”.
As the standards watchdog for UK media, the ASA continues to uphold a zero-tolerance policy towards age-restricted ads appearing in children’s media, as coverage of adult content must comply with the UK Advertising Code.
The original report revealed that the advertisement watchdog observed 11,424 online ads served to 97 children over a week, of which “435 (3.8%) related to ads for alcohol, gambling, and other age-restricted content”.
In its update, the ASA reported “prioritised engagement with 30 advertisers, their agencies in some cases, and YouTube and Meta, concerning the 73 instances when an age-restricted ad was delivered to children in apparent clearcut breaches of the Code”.
The update identified breaches of the Code, amounting to 0.6% of the total instances when an online age-restricted ad was delivered to the panel of 97 children – 37 of these ads promoted gambling.
The ASA further followed up with 65 advertisers who had previously served 261 ads to its panel via social media accounts, 25 of which “reported their age as 18+”.
The watchdog recognises the need for more effective age verification measures and commits to continuing its cooperation with advertisers, agencies, and platforms to ensure children’s online safety.
As part of the report, YouTube, Meta, and 30 unnamed advertisers were contacted by the ASA to discuss instances of “clearcut breaches” of ad rules and how to address them.
Social media companies noted they explicitly exclude gambling ads from being targeted in campaigns. Some advertisers have extended the exclusion to cover individuals aged 18-24.
Gambling operators clarified that, due to their official categorisation as gambling service providers on the platforms, their account configurations and campaign settings “do not allow them to target users registered as 17 or younger”.