Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), and the Committees of Advertising Practice (AP)
Where: United Kingdom
When: June 2019
Law stated as at: 27 June 2019
The ASA has used new monitoring technology in the form of “avatars”, to identify adverts that children see online. In doing so, the ASA has taken action against gambling advertisers and brands advertising products high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS), for breaching rules on targeting children.
The child avatars are online profiles created by technology which simulates the browsing activity of children. Interestingly, the ASA used these avatars to proactively investigate ads which are regarded as inappropriate for children, without the need for members of the public to have to raise a complaint. As a result of the investigations, the ASA confirmed in April that it had taken action against five gambling operators who were deemed to have breached the UK advertising code (the CAP Code).
In June, the ASA declared that it had extended the use of avatars to investigate ads for HFSS products. In particular, this compliance sweep focussed on general interest and youth interest websites, as well as YouTube channels.
Eight brands were found to have advertised HFSS products alongside videos on YouTube channels directed at children. These brands were approached by the regulator and asked to take immediate steps to ensure that the identified adverts would no longer appear and to provide information on the mechanisms in place to ensure future compliance with HFSS targeting rules.
The ASA plans to conduct follow-up avatar monitoring and enforcement exercises, including extending this work to logged-in environments, especially for logged-in social media platforms.
Why this matters:
Children are now, more than ever, readily able to access information online and browse freely, with very little restrictions on what they can access. The use of avatars to see what children are exposed to online is significant. It means that the ASA is able to investigate pro-actively before harm is caused, particularly given children’s perceived susceptibility to targeted marketing.
Brands in industries where child targeting rules are in play, such as gambling, HFSS and alcohol, need to be extra vigilant in their compliance with these rules, as the ASA is no longer willing to wait for a complaint to be made in order to investigate.