ASA finds four gambling operators to have breached age-restricted ad rules

The Advertising Standards Authority has today (26 August 2020) published the findings from its latest online monitoring ‘sweep’, which has helped it to identify and tackle age-restricted ads appearing in children’s media.

In a website news item entitled “Protecting children online: building a zero-tolerance culture to age-restricted ads in children’s media” (that you can download below), it reports as follows:

Advertisers placing age-restricted ads online are required, under the Advertising Code, to target their ads away from child audiences.

In the first phase of a year-long project, we undertook a CCTV-style watch and prioritised identifying and tackling online ads for gambling, alcohol, e-cigarettes and tobacco, slimming and weight control products and food and soft drinks classified as high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS products).

Over a three month period, using monitoring tools to capture ads served on a sample of over 50 websites and YouTube channels attracting a disproportionately high child audience, we:

  • identified a number of instances where the ad rules were broken
  • are taking follow-up action to contact the advertisers whose ads broke the rules to secure the removal of the problem ads; and
  • warned the advertisers to review and, as necessary, amend their practices to ensure they target future ads responsibly

In summary, we found that: 

  • Overall, 159 age-restricted ads broke the advertising rules
  • In total, 35 advertisers placed age-restricted ads in 34 websites and 5 YouTube channels media aimed at or attracting a disproportionately large child audience

A breakdown of each product category reveals the following number of breaches:

  • Gambling: 70 different betting ads from 4 gambling operators appeared on 8 websites
  • Alcohol: 10 different alcohol ads from 1 brand appeared on 1 website
  • E-cigarettes and tobacco: 1 e-cigarette ad appeared on 1 website
  • HFSS: 78 different HFSS ads from 29 advertisers appeared on 24 websites and 5 YouTube channels

The ASA has not publicly named the four gambling operators mentioned above, but it might be expected that details will have been shared with the Gambling Commission. It remains to be seen whether the Commission will take enforcement action against the operators in question, pursuant to the enhanced powers introduced within the Gambling Commission’s Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice with effect from 31 October 2018, as previously reported by us here.

The ASA has said that it will run this same monitoring exercise quarterly over the next twelve months, in order “to pick-up instances of and take action where age-restricted ads are served to child audiences”, adding that it will “report publicly on these figures, as well as compliance action taken against repeat offenders, and share them with relevant industry groups”.

Commenting on this news, ASA Chief Executive, Guy Parker has 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.