The average amount of alcohol advertising seen by children on TV has fallen to a 12-year low, according to the latest figures published by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
In 2019, 0.8% of all TV ads seen by children were alcohol ads, a level that has remained under 1% since 2015. Children’s exposure to alcohol advertising on TV has decreased by two thirds since 2008, from an average of 2.8 to 0.9 ads seen per week.
Relative to adults, children’s exposure to alcohol ads on TV continues to fall from the peak of 41.1% in 2008 to 19.6% in 2019. This means that last year, under 18s saw, on average, one alcohol ad for every five seen by adults.
While children are watching less TV in general, their exposure to broadcast ads for alcohol is falling at a faster rate than their exposure to all television ads, according to the ASA.
“Overall children’s exposure to alcohol advertising is falling faster than their consumption of TV, so they’re seeing even fewer alcohol ads than you might expect given the amount less of TV that they’re watching,” explains ASA regulatory policy manager, Malcolm Phillips.
The number of TV ads seen by children aged four to 15 years has continued to decline since the peak in 2013, halving to an average of 115.9 ads per week in 2019. Over the same period, children’s exposure to alcohol ads on TV decreased by two thirds, while TV gambling ads decreased by just under half.
The ASA data shows that children’s exposure to gambling advertising on TV has returned to similar levels seen at the beginning of the analysis period in 2008.
In 2019 children saw, on average, 2.5 gambling ads on TV per week, compared to 2.2 gambling ads per week in 2008 and 2.7 in 2009. Children’s exposure to gambling ads peaked in 2013, at an average of 4.4 ads per week.
Gambling advertising made up less than 2% of all the TV ads seen by children during an average week every year between 2008 and 2017. However, the frequency rose to 2.2% in 2018, before dropping slightly to 2.1% in 2019.
“The per week figure has returned to levels seen at the earliest point in 2008 – 2009 and that’s despite the decline in TV viewing overall, so it’s possible to say relative to children’s viewing of television overall that they’re seeing more gambling ads proportionally. It’s still somewhere between two and three a week,” Philips explains.
The ASA is clear that despite the fact TV ad rules are helping to limit children’s exposure to age-restricted advertising, it must be mindful of the shift among under 18s to online viewing habits, such as on-demand video and social media.
“We’re happy that exposure remains at stable, low levels and we know that this also tells us the importance of looking more at online. There is a clear shift in children’s media consumption that shows we should focus efforts on the online space and making sure that children are protected there too,” says Phillips.
The regulator is keen to use new technology to take a proactive approach to monitoring children’s exposure to age-restricted ads, including ramping up its use of avatar technology.
Last year the ASA banned adverts from five gambling operators using data collected by avatars simulating children’s online browsing behaviour. It was the first time the regulator had used monitoring technology to create online profiles, which tracked the adverts being served to children as young as six over a two-week monitoring period.
Philips explains that generally gambling and alcohol advertisers are complying with the rules and there are “no real alarm signs”, but that does not mean the industry can think the job is done.
“I don’t think anyone should be resting on their laurels, we know that trends can go up as well as down,” Philips adds. “There’s certainly no reason to be complacent.”