Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 10 November 2022
Law stated as at: 12 December 2022
The ASA has updated its January 2021 guidance for age-restricted ads online, setting out key principles to help advertisers responsibly target ads for age-restricted products such as alcohol, gambling, HFSS (high in fat, salt and sugar) and cosmetic interventions (which is a new category added in May 2022). The updated guidance comes in the form of a principles-based checklist, which can be broken down into three areas: media choice, age-based targeting, and performance monitoring.
This principle invites advertisers to think about the context in which ads are placed and the steps that advertisers can take to avoid serving restricted ads alongside media targeted at a protected age group (that is, under 16s or under 18s, depending on the product).
This builds on the existing rules of the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code), which state that any age-restricted marketing communications should not be targeted at the protected age category “through the selection of media or the context in which they appear”. For businesses serving untargeted ads for age-restricted products, it is also important to note that these should not appear in any media where a protected age category is likely to make up more than 25% of the audience.
Advertisers should harness the wealth of online data already at their fingertips and use age-based targeting tools and technology to actively exclude underage users – which includes users whose age can’t be accurately established if possible. To ensure that age categorisation processes are suitably robust, advertisers should consider how available technology can be enhanced by using supplementary layers of age categorisation data and other behavioural targeting techniques. Advertisers should also be aware of any age-based targeting policies that platforms or media owners might have, which could help to support a responsible age-targeted campaign.
This principle encourages advertisers to use available tools to assess the efficacy of any age-restricted ad campaigns, both in-life and after the campaign. Where it is not possible to monitor live data during a campaign, or amend the approach, CAP also recommends arranging post-campaign audits to help identify how approaches could be amended to limit exposure to the protected age groups in future campaigns.
Businesses are also generally recommended to exercise caution when creating age-restricted ad campaigns. This responsibility extends to ensuring that the online environment and/or ad tech partner (if applicable) can support the campaign by offering effective age-based targeting.
Why this matters
Advertisers can demonstrate that they have taken steps to serve ads appropriately, and limit exposure to protected age groups, by following the checklist set out in this guidance. This is important because, when it comes to investigating the inappropriate targeting of a marketing communication, the ASA will assess the ad within the context in which users are likely to have seen it. The general principle is that advertisers should also have a record of or otherwise be able to account for where the ads have appeared and their likely audience.