Eight major food and retail brands – Asda, Kellogg, KFC, KP Snacks, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, McDonald’s and Pringles – have been fingered for flouting online advertising rules by running junk food ads on YouTube channels which target kids.
The brands’ activities have been exposed in a “compliance sweep” launched by the Advertising Standards Authority which used so-called “child avatars” which simulate the online profiles of children, in order to identify ads served to youngsters across the internet.
Over a two-week monitoring period in the run up to Christmas last year, the ASA captured information on online display ads which appeared on 210 websites and 87 YouTube channels in non-logged-in environments. While the avatars simulated child profiles, the monitoring was not representative of children’s browsing activity over a two week period.
Although the eight offensing brands have been contacted by the Committee of Advertising Practice to take immediate action, the investigation actually found a high level of compliance among other advertisers.
The watchdog said it found no evidence of advertisers which promote products high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) were actively targeting children or serving ads with content directed at children under 12 through the use of celebrities or licensed characters popular with children or promotions.
Of the 41,030 ads served to the ASA’s child avatars on general-interest and youth-interest sites in the two-week period, 2.3% were for HFSS products. But two-thirds of these were for products likely to be of little interest to children, such as ads for high-end cheese and condiments, the regulator said.
Of 39 websites clearly aimed at children, 26 did not serve a single HFSS ad during the monitoring exercise. The 13 remaining children’s websites served a total of 8,534 ads, 43 of which were for HFSS products – 0.5% of all ads served on those sites.
Meanwhile, the monitoring captured information on ads appearing on 87 YouTube channels. On these, 490 ads for HFSS products were served on 55 of the YouTube channels aimed at children.
ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: “Protecting children is one of our top priorities. The problematic ads we found were relatively few in number, compared to the total served, but we’ll take action in respect of any ad for high fat, salt or sugar food and soft drinks which is found to be directed inappropriately at children. We’ll be following up with similar compliance sweeps in the future.
“This is an early taste of the new approaches we’re applying under our new strategy, More Impact Online, which is all about strengthening further the regulation of online advertising.”
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