The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) says it will ‘monitor’ a rise in the number of gambling ads to which children are exposed after documenting an increase from 2.5 in 2019 to 2.8 in 2020.
The upward trend is revealed in the watchdog’s latest Trends in Advertising report, but is downplayed as representing only a ‘small increase’.
A delicate balance
Scheduling restrictions are in place to minimize the likelihood of under-18s being exposed to ads for age-related categories such as alcohol and gambling, but this system is far from foolproof.
As a result, the ASA regularly monitors the situation to ensure that the rules as they stand are sufficiently robust to protect young and vulnerable audiences.
A variety of tools are employed to maintain a delicate equilibrium including technology-assisted monitoring to identify and tackle problem ads online as they appear.
In its latest situation report, the ASA found that children saw 2.8 ads for gambling a week in 2020 on average, up from 2.5 in 2019.
Despite heading in the wrong direction, the figure still represents a marked improvement from the peak of gambling TV ad exposure in 2013 when the comparable figure stood at 4.4 ads.
The numbers also disguise a consistent trend that has seen children’s exposure to gambling ads relative to adults fall from 38.6% in 2008 to just 16.3% in 2020.
Underlying the recent increase is a marginal increase in exposure to lottery and scratchcard ads over the past 12 months, but the sector has remained broadly flat for the past seven years.
Flattening the figures was a collapse in sports betting as a consequence of the pandemic, pulling the sector down to its lowest level of activity on record, and a far cry from its 2011 peak.
On the other hand, alcohol ad exposure across 2020 recorded no material rise on 2019 levels, easing concerns raised last year about a potential rise.
Overall children saw 0.9 alcohol ads each week on average in 2020, equivalent to 19.7 seconds – a marked downturn from the 2.8 ads seen in 2008.
On average a child will see one alcohol ad for every five seen by an adult, with alcohol adverts constituting 0.9% of all ads seen by children last year.
This means children’s exposure to alcohol ads on TV is falling at a quicker pace than their exposure to all TV ads.
Children are switching the TV off
Underlying both sets of figures is a profound shift in the viewing habits of children, with viewership declining to 6.9 hours per week on average even as adults consumed more content than ever before.
As a result, children were exposed to just half the number of TV ads as they were in 2008, on average.
‘Protecting children is at the heart of our regulation’
Commenting on the figures, ASA chief executive Guy Parker says: “Our latest report shows that children’s exposure to gambling and alcohol TV ads remains low, particularly relative to adults’ exposure, despite the extraordinary period we’ve gone through and changing viewing habits.
“The small increase in gambling ad exposure is something we will keep a close eye on – protecting children is at the heart of our regulation, and exposure must be appropriately limited. We will continue monitoring in this area, as well as online, to ensure that we appropriately limit children’s exposure to age-restricted ads wherever they appear.”