Exposure to age-restricted ads remains low, but ASA is ‘mindful’ of online harm for kids

Kids' exposure to age-restrictive ads on TV remains low, says the ASA

While children's exposure to gambling ads on TV has dropped in recent years, the Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) has warned of the need to stay vigilant when policing online ads.

Mindful of reducing children's exposure to age-restricted ads, UK ad rules contain scheduling restrictions designed to significantly reduce the exposure of under-18s to ads for alcohol and gambling.

The ASA's exposure figures for 2019, published today (22 May) suggest that TV ad rules continue to have an effect on limiting children's exposure to these categories.

And after decreasing by two-thirds since 2008, the number of alcohol ads children are exposed to (0.9 ads per week) has remained at the same levels as those observed over the last four years. On average in 2019, children were exposed to one alcohol advert for every five seen by an adult.

Furthermroe, after peaking in 2013, the number of gambling ads viewed by kids has since dropped by half, to an average of 2.5 ads per week.

The drop in exposure is, in part, a byproduct of a decline in children's exposure to TV ads altogether – likely due to changes in TV viewing habits.

An analysis of Barb viewing data found in 2019 that children aged 4-15 watched, on average, 7.5 hours of television per week. This was down by 1.5 hours from 2018 and less than half the the average observed in 2010 (17.6 hours per week).

While the findings suggest TV ad rules continue to limit children's exposure to age-restricted ads, the report warned of the need to police on-demand and online ads - in light of children's shifting media consumption habits.

To combat the issue online, the ad watchdog has been harnessing new technology to proactively monitor brands targeting children online.

Back in November 2018, it announced a five-year strategy that put a greater focus on the regulation of online adverts right at its heart. Envisioning a world where online regulation could be automated, the plan saw the ASA experiment with AI technology.

The avatar tech trial exposed how some gambling brands are flouting rules on age-restrictions and in April 2019, five betting companies (including Aston Villa’s kit sponsor Unibet) were found guilty of breaking rules that prohibit them from skewing ads towards kids as part of the trial.

While is it still relevant for the ASA to police TV ads, in 2018, its annual report found complaints about online ads now outnumbered TV cases, three to one.

According to the report, the ASA received 16,059 complaints relating to 14,257 online ads, with grievances up 41% on 2017’s figures. Complaints about TV ads clocked in at 10,773 and related to 5,748 different pieces of creative.

“Our latest report shows that children’s exposure to TV ads for alcohol and gambling products remains low,“ the ASA's chief executive, Guy Parker confirms. “We will continue our proactive monitoring to make sure this remains the case for TV ads as well as carrying out further monitoring online so that we limit children’s exposure to age-restricted ads wherever they appear.”

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