Three in ten children (30%) aged 11-16 said they had been bothered by an ad in the last 12 months, mainly because they were sexual, violent and/or scary, according to research by Ipsos/Mori for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The qualitative research was commissioned following a call to better monitor views of children and parents in last year’s Government commissioned Bailey Review of the commercialisation of childhood.
Children spontaneously highlighted charity and public service ads as those that had upset or bothered them or younger siblings recently, according to the research. Some said they were upset by the ad content on its own, while others were worried because they felt helpless to do anything to support the cause shown.
The concern about such ads was an unexpected outcome for the regulator and has prompted a ‘moral dilemma’ according to a spokesman, who said they will need to look again at whether they ‘draw the line in the right place’.
He added the regulator would consult with advertisers on the findings. The ASA is already planning a 12 month secondary school visit programme to educate young people about advertising and monitor views, as part of its response to the Bailey Review.
Charity and public service campaigns are adjudicated slightly differently to take into account that some are intended to be hard-hitting and shocking to achieve their objectives.
Campaigns by charities such as Barnardo’s and some Government ads have received complaints for disturbing content that have not been upheld by the watchdog in the last 12 months.
The research, which also took in the views of adults and parents, found that areas of concern spontaneously mentioned by participants included sexual content and nudity, body image, violent content and gender stereotypes.
However, the watchdog said participants on the whole thought the ASA was getting its regulatory decisions right when showed ads, complaints and ruling decisions taken over the last 12 months.
Slightly fewer said they had been personally offended by an ad in the last 12 months (16%) compared to 19% in similar research ten years ago.
The ASA said only a minority of the respondents felt ads which had caused concern about portraying unrealistic body image should be banned, despite recent high profile campaigns by politicians and pressure groups.
It also emerged that people feel advertising is either less or equally culpable that the wider media when it comes to using content that makes women and girls feel bad about themselves.