The ad watchdog has pledged a “zero tolerance” approach to brand owners who target children with age-restricted ads for betting, booze and junk food following yet another online “sweep”, which has once again exposed scores of advertisers are still breaking the rules.
The Advertising Standards Authority’s latest online monitoring exercise revealed that 34 out of 49 websites and five out of seven YouTube channels were caught running age-restricted ads within a three-month period.
The websites being monitored included major media owners such as Nickelodeon and video game firms such as Total Jerkface, although the watchdog has declined to name and shame either the channels or advertisers who had been fingered.
The operation found 159 age-restricted ads in total, with ads promoting junk food – “high in fat, salt and sugar” (HFSS) – being the biggest culprits, accounting for 78 different ads from 29 advertisers found running on 24 websites and five YouTube channels.
Even so, the ASA did concede these were “technical breaches”, with the majority as unlikely to appeal to children, such as ads for butter, nuts, seeds and cooking sauces.
Gambling companies were also high on the hit-list, with 70 different betting ads from four operators appearing on eight websites, while 10 different alcohol ads from one brand appeared on one website and one e-cigarette ad appeared on another website.
None of the companies will face action at this stage, the ASA confirmed, despite the regulator vowing to follow a policy of zero tolerance. Instead, it is telling the companies involved to clean up their act and only repeat offenders will be battered.
This is a major change in policy; last year the watchdog named and shamed Asda, Kellogg, KFC, KP Snacks, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, McDonald’s and Pringles in its first “sweep” after discovering the brands were running junk food ads on YouTube channels which target kids.
The ASA plans to repeat the monitoring exercise each quarter over the year. Chief executive Guy Parker said: “The ASA is using technology to proactively monitor online ads to help build a culture of zero tolerance for age-restricted ads appearing on websites aimed at children.
“We expect advertisers and the parties they contract with to use the sophisticated tools available to them to target their ads responsibly. This is just one part of a wider set of initiatives we’re undertaking to ensure children are protected online and we’ll report on our further work in this area in the coming months.”
Fat lot of good that will do: Adland blasts junk food ban
YouTube cuts off targeted kids ads in global overhaul
Government urged to tighten up data laws for children
Ad body scoffs at claims that TV spots make kids gorge
Junk food lobby goes ape over ad for banana gadget
M&S, Asda and KP caught serving junk foods ads to kids