Children's exposure to alcohol and gambling ads has plummeted in the past 11 years, falling by three-quarters and just over a quarter respectively, according to a study by the Advertising Standards Authority.
The ASA's TV Ad Exposure Report for 2021 reveals that for alcohol ads, kids' exposure declined from an average of 3.2 per week in 2010 to just 0.8, while exposure to gambling ads decreased from an average 3.0 to 2.2 in 2021. Children's exposure to gambling ads relative to that of adults has fallen year on year, down from 36% in 2010 to 15.4% in 2021.
Meanwhile, children are viewing fewer TV ads than ever, the report noted: they were exposed to an average 226.7 ads per week in 2010, a number that fell to 82.8 in 2021.
The ASA's report was compiled using data gleaned from its monitoring of ads, "in particular those for age-restricted products, to help identify trends and ensure its tough scheduling restrictions are working to limit appropriately, in this case children's, exposure to them", the watchdog said.
The four nations
For the first time since compiling its TV Ad Exposure Report, the ASA has broken down the findings by UK nation:
- Children in England are watching fewer TV ads than they did in the past decade or so, with weekly average exposure falling from 227.5 in 2013 – an historical peak – to 81.6 in 2021
- English children were exposed to the fewest alcohol ads on TV compared with the other four nations – down from 3.1 in 2010 to 0.8 in 2021
- Under-16s saw an average of 2.1 gambling ads in 2021, down from 2.9 in 2010
- Under-16s in Scotland watched the most TV ads overall of the four nations, although viewing figures have fallen – from 225.1 ads on average per week in 2013 to 92.8 in 2021
- Scottish children also saw fewer alcohol ads, with exposure down from 3.4 in 2010 to 0.9 in 2021
- For gambling, those weekly averages fell from 3.5 to 2.8
- Children in Northern Ireland experienced the biggest fall in exposure to all TV advertising, from a 2013 weekly average peak of 281.6, down 79% to 59, the lowest rate of exposure in the UK
- Northern Ireland's under-16s also saw the most dramatic decrease in alcohol ad exposure – from 5.2 in 2010 to just a single ad in 2021
- Gambling ad exposure underwent the steepest decline of the UK, down from 3.5 in 2010 to 1.4 in 2021
- Welsh children watch the most TV ads of the four nations, from an average of 19.9 ads per week in 2010 to 5.9 in 2021
- Under-16s' exposure to alcohol ads declined from 3.7 ads per week in 2010 to just one per week in 2021
- But Welsh minors were exposed to the highest number of gambling ads in the UK at 3.2 ads per week in 2021 (down from 3.9 in 2010)
Guy Parker, the ASA's chief executive, said: "Our latest report confirms the ongoing decline in children's exposure to ads for age-restricted products, which is what our rules are designed to achieve. But of course that's not the full story.
"Children's media consumption habits are changing significantly, which is why we're also focused on protecting them online. Later this year, we'll publish our findings on the ads they are seeing across the internet and social media as part of our zero-tolerance approach to age-restricted ads being served to children."
'The 100 Children Report'
While the ASA said the "decline in children's exposure to TV ads is encouraging" it acknowledged that "a lot of that is down to changing media habits". Thus the watchdog is carrying out work to "gain a fully rounded picture of children's exposure to ads".
Using technology that simulates children's online profiles, the ASA is running "quarterly CCTV-style monitoring sweeps to find where age-restricted ads have broken our rules".
It has also commissioned new research for its forthcoming The 100 Children Report. Working with a panel of 100 children between the ages of 11 and 17, it will "be able to identify and take action against age-restricted ads served inappropriately to children's websites and their social media accounts".
"Building on a study we undertook in 2013, this piece of work will help provide a crucial insight into the real-world experiences of children's exposure to and interaction with online ads."