Guy Parker, ASA chief executive, said advertisers need to ask themselves whether “they really are doing all they reasonably can not to target children with ads for age-restricted products or services when they know that a significant chunk of the child population is exposed to these ads.”
The ASA plans to speak to advertisers about self-declared age-gating and will consider whether the regulator itself needs to take a “tougher line”. It plans to take the findings of its report to the ASA Council and will also draw them to attention of advertising code-writing body the Committee of Advertising Practice and ask whether new guidance for advertisers on targeting ads online is needed.
The survey involved 24 children aged between 11- and 15-years-old who were invited to use tablets and laptops fitted with image capturing and data recording software. As a result of their social media activity, the children were presented with 427 ads.
All but four of the children involved had registered on a social media site using a false age, with 10 participants falsely registering as 18 or over. This meant one or more age-restricted ads – such as those for gambling, alcohol and slimming products – were served to 10 children . The ads did not, however, break the CAP code because none used creative content that appealed particularly to people under the age of 18.
A Facebook spokesman says the ASA report recognises that when advertisers use a service like its own, they can be “confident” their ads are reaching the type of people they want – which is particularly useful for brands who have products which are age restricted.
“But when children lie about their age, that value and intention can be undermined. It’s important for parents, schools, safety organisations – like Childnet and FOSI – and platforms like ours to encourage children not to do this. Simply put they will have a better experience if they don’t lie. Technology can help to spot children who do, but there’s no substitute for action by people who know the child in the real world. The ASA have highlighted an important issue and we are committed to continue to work with them, our clients and others to address this,” he adds.
Twitter declined to comment.
Advertising Association communications director Ian Barber says the report is an example of why self regulation in advertising is so important.
He adds: “It shows that the rules are working but in an industry where technology and social trends are changing fast, we need to be ready to monitor and adapt to change.”
While the report clearly points to a problem that demands a conversation, ISBA director of public affairs Ian Twinn says it is important not to get “too carried away”.
“By the ASA’s own admission ‘very few’ of the ads seen by the 24 children surveyed – a relatively small sample size – contained what they describe as ‘problematic content’.
“The weak link in the chain here is not advertising, but inadequate age gating. As such the obvious first port of call are the social media owners. Parental control, or rather how we are to help mum and dad to keep a closer eye on their children’s online behaviour, would be more effective than playing with regulation.”