CAP issues new guidance on targeting age-restricted adverts online

We review the Committee of Advertising Practice’s recently published guidance on how to comply with the rules on age-restricted advertising in an online context

18 January 2023

Age-restricted advertising

The Committee of Advertising Practice (“CAP”), the sister organisation of the ASA, has recently published further guidance on how to comply with the rules on age-restricted advertising in an online context.

The current categories of age-restricted advertising for under-18s includes;

(a) Alcohol;

(b) Cosmetic interventions (as of May 2022);

(c) Gambling;

(d) National Lottery;

(e) Rolling papers or filters; and

(f) Weight-reduction regimes or establishments.

The current categories of age-restricted advertising for under-16s includes;

(a) Food and soft drink high in fat, salt or sugar;

(b) Football pools, equal-chance gaming, prize gaming or Category D gaming machines;

(c) Medicines; and

(d) Society lotteries.

Under the CAP Code, adverts for certain products may only be targeted at those either over 16 or over 18. For example, advertising for alcohol and gambling cannot be targeted at under-18s and, from 1 July 2017, adverts for foods high in fat, salt or sugar cannot be targeted at under-16s. For both under-18s and under-16s, no medium should be used to advertise these products or services if more than 25% of its audience is the protected category.

Further, whilst some other products such as knives or nicotine pouches do not attract an explicit age-targeting restriction under the CAP Code, the ASA would expect advertisers of those products to avoid directing their ads at audiences under the age of 18. The same expectation would apply to ads unsuitable for under-18s because of the creative content of the ad; for example, because it is sexually explicit, depicts or suggests especially violent acts.

New guidance

The CAP has issued guidance on how to comply with this rule when advertising online. The guidance notes that individuals may provide information about their age themselves, for example in social media or other "logged in" environments. Alternatively, information about a user's age may be inferred from their online behaviour or information collected from their devices (behavioural data). Marketers engaging in age-restricted advertising should both select appropriate groups to target and exclude inappropriate groups. Because the information submitted by children about their age may not be accurate, marketers should combine it with behavioural data, where possible.

Where age-restricted adverts are targeted at individuals who have just turned 16 or 18, marketers will need to take particular care. If a marketer wishes to target an ad on the basis of an interest that has a broad age appeal (for example, football), they should combine this with interest factors likely to exclude the restricted age group (for example, house buying).

Further, CAP is advising advertisers that they should consider the suitability of all available tools to target their campaigns and ensure that other parties involved in developing and publishing a campaign – for instance, agencies, influencers and affiliates – are also aware of and follow the requirements of the audience targeting restrictions in the CAP Code. The new guidance provides a principles-based checklist to help advertisers and their agencies limit children and young people’s exposure to age-restricted ads.

Principle-based checklist:

1. Choosing the right media

Use exclusion and/or inclusion lists to help direct your ads towards age-appropriate media, and away from media popular with or intended for children and young people

2. Using a combination of targeting tools

Use the range of tools available, such as age, interest, or behavioural targeting, to direct your ads away from children and young people and towards a legitimate adult audience.

3. Working with content creators and influencers

Be very cautious about working with influencers and other content creators who have a significant following of children or young people and where there are inadequate means to prevent the protected age group from seeing a post.

4. Managing your own social media posts

Place additional restrictions on who can see your posts where possible, such as only targeting existing followers or logged-in users.

5. Monitoring your campaign

Review data from ad platforms and/or third-party providers to adjust ongoing campaigns (where possible) and improve the targeting of your future ads.

Enforcement

Following a complaint or evidence from monitoring activity regarding inappropriate targeting of a marketing communication, the ASA will assess the marketer’s placement and targeting decisions in relation to the selection of media or the context in which the ad appeared.

When it comes to investigating the inappropriate targeting of a marketing communication, the ASA will assess the ad within the context in which users are likely to have seen it. The general principle is that advertisers should be able to demonstrate to the ASA they have taken into account the requirements of the relevant media placement restriction for each part of their campaign and have acted accordingly through their placement and targeting decisions to limit the exposure of a protected age group.

CAP cautions marketers of age-restricted products that failure to show the ASA they have considered the likely audience of a medium or piece of online content and/or the need to employ available targeting tools appropriately is highly likely to represent a breach of the Code.

Upcoming developments

On the 29th of November 2022, ASA published its research findings of children’s real-world exposure to age-restricted ads online. They found 73 occasions (0.6% of the total number) where the ad was in likely breach of the UK targeting rules. The ASA is following up with the 30 advertisers behind these ads (and the platforms, where relevant) to corroborate their findings and, as necessary, to secure remedial action and assurances of future compliance and to highlight the checklists in the new guidance.

The findings also suggested that at least 11% of children’s social media accounts are registered with a date of birth that falsely suggests the account holder is 18 or older; as a likely consequence, the ASA found that these accounts were served 47% of all the age-restricted ads captured in their study, almost two-thirds more than children registered with a child’s age. This only goes to reaffirm the importance of the new guidance in ensuring a combination of targeting tools is implemented by advertisers.

If you'd like to discuss age-restricted advertising in detail or have any queries about the Guidance, please contact Richard Hugo or another member of Burges Salmon's Commercial team.

This article was written by Abbie McGregor.

Key contact

Helen Scott-Lawler

Helen Scott-Lawler Partner

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