A majority of children’s websites have been caught displaying age-restricted ads for gambling, alcohol and high fat, salt or sugar foods, a sting by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority has found.
The advertising watchdog’s latest online monitoring sweep, described as a “CCTV-style watch”, found 34 out of 49 websites had displayed age-restricted ads within a three-month period, as had five out of seven YouTube channels.
The ASA said it would not name the media channels or brands whose ads had broken the rules. The websites being monitored included big media owners such as Nickelodeon's nick.co.uk and nicktoons.co.uk, as well as video game creators such as totaljerkface.co.uk.
The operation found 159 age-restricted ads in total, with 70 different betting ads from four gambling operators appearing on eight websites. Meanwhile, 10 different alcohol ads from one brand appeared on one website and one e-cigarette ad appeared on one website.
There were also 78 different HFSS ads from 29 advertisers found running on 24 websites and five YouTube channels. However, many of these are considered to be “technical breaches” – while HFSS ads should be targeted away from children and children’s media, the majority are considered as unlikely to appeal to children, such as ads for butter, nuts, seeds and cooking sauces.
The ASA will run this monitoring exercise quarterly over the year and has pledged to take compliance action against repeat offenders. It uses data collated by Nielsen’s media monitoring tools, which uses “spider technology” to captures ad creative served on more than 1,000 websites and YouTube channels multiple times a day.
The ASA defined "children’s websites" and "children’s YouTube channels" as those that are aimed at children and young people or which attract a disproportionately high audience of children and young people.
Guy Parker, the ASA's chief executive, said: “The ASA is using technology to proactively monitor online ads to help build a culture of zero tolerance for age-restricted ads appearing on websites aimed at children.
"We expect advertisers and the parties they contract with to use the sophisticated tools available to them to target their ads responsibly. This is just one part of a wider set of initiatives we’re undertaking to ensure children are protected online and we’ll report on our further work in this area in the coming months.”