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Advertising Standards Authority

ASA publishes latest study into restricted ads in children’s media

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has published the findings from its fourth monitoring sweep, as part of a year-long project to identify and tackle age-restricted ads appearing in children’s online media.

Whilst the overwhelming majority of age-restricted ads are targeted responsibly in online media, targeting audiences heavily weighted (75 %+) to adult audiences, a minority end up in children’s online media.

Advertisers placing age-restricted ads online are required, under the Advertising Code, to take care to target their ads away from child audiences. In particular, that means websites and YouTube channels designed for children or that attract a disproportionately high child audience cannot carry age-restricted ads.

The latest report continued what the ASA calls CCTV-style scrutiny of online ads for: gambling, alcohol, e-cigarettes and tobacco, slimming and weight control products and food and soft drinks classified as high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS products).

Since undertaking the monitoring, the UK Government has announced new restrictions on the advertising of HFSS products on TV and online, which are due to take effect from the beginning of 2023. That policy shift does not change the ASA’s responsibility to take action against HFSS ads placed, in breach of the current rules, in children’s media.

Between January and March 2021, using monitoring tools to capture age-restricted ads served on a sample of 49 websites and 12 YouTube channels attracting a disproportionately high child audience, the ASA found that:

  • Overall, 158 age-restricted ads broke the advertising rules; and
  • In total, 41 advertisers placed age-restricted ads in 33 websites and 8 YouTube channels aimed at, or attracting a disproportionately large, child audience.

A breakdown of ads by product category that broke the rules reveals:


  • 7 alcohol ads by 3 advertisers on 8 websites


  • 29 ads by 3 advertisers on 17 websites


  • 117 ads by 31 advertisers on 31 websites and 8 YouTube channels

Weight reduction:

  • 5 ads by 4 advertisers on 4 websites


  • No ads for e-cigarettes or tobacco products were picked up during this monitoring period

The ASA says its preliminary inspection of the data suggests that the majority of advertisers who it identified breaking the rules in earlier monitoring sweeps have not reoffended. It has warned the advertisers who we have caught in this latest sweep to review and, as necessary, amend their practices to ensure they target future ads responsibly.

Throughout the last year, harnessing innovative monitoring technology as part of a five-year strategy, More Impact Online, has proved effective in helping the ASA identify and tackle irresponsibly placed ads for age restricted products at scale and speed to better protect children.

Online ads over take TV commercials for complaints

The Advertising Standards Authority has revealed that a record number of ads were amended or withdrawn in 2017, with online advertisements sparking more complaints than TV commercials for the first time.

In its annual report the body highlighted that some 7,099 ads were amended or withdrawn, while it provided advise and training to 389,289 businesses.

Other key findings include:

  • 27,138 complaints were resolved about 19,398 ads – a 14 per cent increase in cases compared to the previous year.
  • The internet overtook TV as the most complained about medium – 10,932 complaints about 9,951 online ads (TV: 9,466 complaints about 4,666 ads).
  • The ratio between internet cases and TV cases remained comparable with the previous year at around 2:1.

“We want to make sure ads are responsible without consumers necessarily having to complain to us,” said the ASA’s chief executive Guy Parker. “By being more proactive, we’ve secured the amendment or withdrawal of more ads than ever before. At the same time, we’ve delivered a record amount of advice and training to help businesses get their ads right before they run. Our approach is helping make ads more responsible, which is in the best interests of consumers, businesses and wider society.”

To view the full report, click here.


Ad regulator bans Peugeot advert for condoning dangerous driving

French car giant Peugeot has had its latest advert banned by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for condoning dangerous driving.

The advert, which first aired in July, shows a man driving through the streets reading a text from a lady friend on the car’s built-in screen located on the dashboard. The driver then raised a hand from the steering wheel.

Five viewers reported the advert to the ASA as hey claimed it condoned dangerous or irresponsible driving.

Peugeot in its defence said that because the Highway Code permits a driver to adjust music or the radio, the action of looking momentarily at the screen was no worse, and while thew driver did raise one hand, this action was again momentarily, adding that at no point did the driver take his eyes from the road, with the advert designed a “fantastical treatment” to create humour around the new technology within the vehicle.

The ASA acknowledged the points, yet decided to ban the advert, releasing a statement saying: “We considered that, to show a driver reading a text message (which, even at the eye level at which it was shown in the ad, would have inevitably diverted his attention from the road ahead) and then reacting to it, amounted to a distraction that would have prevented him being aware of, and/or being in control of, other actions that were necessary for safe driving.”

ASA cracks down on gender stereotyping ads

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has proposed new rules cracking down on ads that are seen to present activities only appropriate for one gender or another, ads that ‘body shame’ young women and those that mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.

The ASA’s proposal are outlined in a new report – ‘Depictions, Perceptions and Harm’ – that was conducted between the watchdog and research firm GfK. In particular, the ASA is looking to address the portrayal of women in ads, following a major crackdown on airbrushing which has seen the banning of beauty ads featuring top models and actresses including Julia Roberts, Cara Delevingne and Natalie Portman.

Ads that feature models who look unhealthily thin will also be banned, along with new clarification regarding ads that objectify or inappropriately sexualise women and girls.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) will develop new standards on ads which the ASA will administer and enforce in 2018.

“Portrayals which reinforce outdated and stereotypical views on gender roles in society can play their part in driving unfair outcomes for people,” commented ASA chief executive Guy Parker.

The ASA has clarified that a blanket ban wouldn’t be implemented – men doing DIY jobs and women cleaning are acceptable – but versions of these kind of ads would come under scrutiny, such as “family members creating a mess while a woman is seen having the sole responsibility cleaning it up”.

“Our review shows that specific forms of gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to harm for adults and children,” said Ella Smillie, lead author of the report.

“Such portrayals can limit how people see themselves, how others see them, and limit the life decisions they take. Tougher standards in the areas we’ve identified will address harms and ensure that modern society is better represented.”