Ads for both HFSS food and weight loss rise in kids’ media

ASA research finds fewer websites showed age-restricted ads than in previous quarters – but the number of separate advertisers rose.

ASA: found HFSS products now account for majority of age-resticted ads found in children's digital media (Image: Peter Cade/Getty)
ASA: found HFSS products now account for majority of age-resticted ads found in children's digital media (Image: Peter Cade/Getty)

Media owners and ad buyers have made some progress in efforts to wipe out age-restricted ads from digital media aimed at kids, but a considerable task remains, according to the second of four quarterly monitoring exercises on the topic by the Advertising Standards Authority.

The study examined 49 websites and seven YouTube channels aimed at children, and found more than half in each category carried age-restricted ads for products including gambling, alcohol and food and drink high in fat, salt or sugar between July and September.

Twenty-seven of the websites and four of the YouTube channels carried these ads, figures that were down from 34 and five respectively in the previous report. The total number of offending ads across these platforms also fell, from 159 to 127.

But these numbers disguise uneven progress, with the two main product categories – gambling and HFSS – moving in opposite directions.

The number of different gambling ads found plummeted from 70 in the previous quarter to just five this time – an outcome the ASA said was “encouraging”. The body added that none of the gambling operators it had contacted during the first UK lockdown had been found to be advertising on these sites.

But the number of different HFSS ads detected rose, from 78 (across 24 websites and five YouTube channels) to 102 (across 27 sites and four channels). 

Across all sectors, the number of offending advertisers detected by the monitoring exercise also rose, from 35 to 44.

The remaining ads detected were for alcohol (six, down from 10 last time) and weight reduction (14, against none last time).

The ASA pointed to a policy introduced by Google in October requiring advertisers to self-declare their ads as HFSS, which would result in them being served only to logged-in users with a declared age of 18-plus. The watchdog said it expected this to have a position impact on the next quarterly report.

Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA, said: “We’re encouraged to see advertisers, most notably in the gambling sector, taking steps to target their age-restricted online ads responsibly. 

“We expect that trend to continue, particularly amongst HFSS advertisers, throughout the remainder of this project and beyond. We’ll continue working with advertisers and taking action where necessary to build a culture of zero tolerance for age-restricted ads appearing on websites aimed at children.”

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