ASA urges gambling sector to improve its age targeting performance

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has urged advertisers of adult-content to make better use of the targeting tools available to minimise children’s exposure to age-restricted advertising.

The advertising body made the plea to alcohol, gambling, and high fat, salt, or sugar (HFSS) advertisers after carrying out its latest monitoring sweep of online advertising platforms which measured the coverage of age-restricted content to UK audiences.

The ASA’s latest monitoring sweep

In its latest monitoring sweep, the ASA focused on high-volume “mixed-age online platforms,” such as YouTube, that attracts a large proportion of users that don’t have to log in.

Under the existing rules, advertisers of adult products may not host age-restricted ads in children’s media, which includes sites aimed at children or sites where children make up 25% or more of the audience. However, ads are permitted in mixed-age media where adults make up a majority or more than 75%, of the total audience.

In its sweep, the ASA used “six uniquely age-categorised avatars”  to measure the distribution of “dynamically served ads” for alcohol, gambling, and HFSS content served across mixed-age platforms.

The ASA said: “The Avatars are constructed to reflect the online browsing profile of these age groups, but their automated actions – visiting 250 web pages on both desktop and mobile devices, twice a day – are obviously not indicative of real-world online behaviours.”

The advertising watchdog explained that the technology used by advertisers should enable target subsets to be set on a platform’s audience when it comes to age, location, and browsing interests.

What did the monitoring sweep find?

While monitoring platforms, the ASA revealed that its six age-categorised avatars received 27,395 ads, which were published across 250 sites over a three-week period.

The results found that gambling-related ads were served in broadly similar numbers to child and adult avatars with no significant skew towards adult profiles.

The ASA’s neutral avatar, which had no browsing history to provide insight to advertisers, received noticeably fewer gambling ads on mixed-age platforms.

Furthermore, HFSS ads were served in broadly similar numbers to child and adult avatars, with no significant skew towards the adult profiles, and notably higher numbers of ads served to the neutral avatar

The ASA noted that alcohol ads were not served to any avatars.

The ASA explained that the high-figures registered “ do not reflect real-world exposure to advertising,” however, the results have given the ASA a reason to call on advertisers to improve their age targeting performance.

ASA Chief Executive, Guy Parker, said: “We call on advertisers to make better use of targeting tools to minimise children’s exposure to dynamically served age-restricted ads. And we call on third parties involved in the distribution of these ads to ensure the data and modelling on which those tools rely are as effective as they can be. 

“Finally, we will be exploring whether the report should lead to more prescriptive measures relating to dynamically-served age-restricted ads. This latest monitoring sweep is just one part of a wider set of initiatives where we’re harnessing technology, all with the aim of ensuring children are protected online.”