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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 11-Feb-19 13:30:25

Guest post: “We take action where advertisers get it wrong.”

This year, Advertising Standards Authority have started a new project researching adverts that appear in games apps targeted at children under the age of 8.

Craig Jones

ASA Director of Communications

Posted on: Mon 11-Feb-19 13:30:25

(16 comments )

Lead photo

“It’s not enough for advertisers to simply rely on self-declared ages; we know children can register false birth dates to open social media accounts.”

The internet can seem like a daunting place. Barely a week goes by without concerns about the impact of children spending time online making headlines. While the platforms and parents have responsibility for making sure children are safe, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) also has a role to play in ensuring the ads that children see, hear and engage with online aren’t harmful.

Recent research released by Ofcom has shown that children spend just over two hours a day online – more time than they spend in front of a TV. Ofcom’s study of their media use also showed that children are also increasingly drawn to platforms like YouTube and Netflix for the choice and control they offer. This is why it’s important our rules protect children across all media including online and social media, advergames (games which contain advertising), kids’ apps and video on demand services.

For example, advertisers must not exploit children’s vulnerability or lack of experience; nor should they contain anything that is likely to result in their physical, mental or moral harm.

As a result, our strict rules are designed to ensure children are not targeted by inappropriate content. For instance, ads for age-restricted products such as gambling, alcohol, e-cigarettes and food and soft drinks high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS), must be carefully targeted to reduce the likelihood of children being exposed to them. Where they do see them, strict content rules prohibit ads being of particular appeal – for example, through the use of cartoon or licensed characters and certain colours and imagery.

Targeting tools are becoming ever more sophisticated and parents, rightly, want reassurance that proper protections are in place. We take action where advertisers get it wrong.

Last year we banned an advergame for Swizzels, ‘Squashies World’, where the advertiser was unable to prove its audience didn’t include a significant number of children. Our rules prevent the advertising of HFSS products to an audience that is made up of more than 25% under-16s. Similarly, we banned content on a Cadbury’s website because some of the downloadable storybooks and activity packs promoted HFSS food and were targeted at children.

Parents are understandably wary and conscious of apps that encourage or exhort their child to make in-app purchases. This can result in worry when children are browsing the internet on their own or on a shared device.


We have also ruled on instances where a child may be surfing the internet but logged in via an adult’s profile. Last year, a seven-year-old saw an in-app gambling ad on a shared device and we banned the ad, ruling that the advertiser should have taken further measures to minimize the likelihood of under-18s being exposed to the ad.

It’s not enough for advertisers to simply rely on self-declared ages; we know that children can register false birth dates to open social media accounts. Advertisers must prove to us that they’ve filtered out users whose browsing behaviour or profiles indicate that they might be age-inappropriate.

Parents are understandably wary and conscious of apps that encourage or exhort their child to make in-app purchases. This can result in worry when children are browsing the internet on their own or on a shared device. Our rules state that children should not be directly pressured to make purchases; we ruled against two online games, Bin Weevils and Moshi Monsters, which broke these rules.

In these instances, both games contained language and prominent calls to action that we considered put pressure on young players to purchase a membership subscription and in-game currency to take part in additional gameplay.

This year, we’ve started a new project specifically concerned with researching the ads that appear in games apps targeted at children under the age of eight, in order to have a clearer picture of exactly what ads they’re seeing, including to check whether they are being shown ads for age-restricted products and whether they are being put under pressure to make in-app purchases or micro-transactions. If we find that there are problems with ads on these apps we’ll take firm action to put things right.

We work year-round with advertisers to ensure that ads are targeted correctly, that they don’t contain inappropriate content marketing restricted products, or pressure children to make purchases.

Our rules are in place to make sure all ads are responsible – if you see an ad that you believe is misleading or harmful, we’d encourage you to submit a complaint to us.

Now, more than ever, there are measures in place to keep children safe when it comes to online ads – but we’re not complacent and will continue to make sure the rules are proportionate and robust, to ensure we’re doing our bit to make the internet safer for everyone.

From MNHQ: We will be passing on your questions to Craig and his team on Wednesday 13th February.

By Craig Jones

Twitter: @ASA_UK

MeMeBig Mon 11-Feb-19 16:15:23

What are your actions to you tubers that advertise their 'merch' to children?

cannotmakemymindup Mon 11-Feb-19 16:42:00

What about ads in Instagram? My Dd will end up looking over my shoulder sometimes as I am looking at Insta and although I follow 'safe' people ads pop up that are unappropiate for children things like film trailers (rated 12+), music, other sponsered ads.

How does Insta get around things like this? Can't they to have a watershed where only safe ads are shown.

macblank Mon 11-Feb-19 18:31:53

@Craig Jones
Off topic...

When adcertisers say... Contains 100% chicken breast.
Can it contain anything? Cos I'm sure some of those products aren't just chicken. I know the famous one with a weird looking captain, it's chopped n shaped machanically removed with other stuff in it. Just like the nuggets from the golden arches, and similar.

I wish if it said the above-mentioned, it was just cut up chicken, and nothing else.

Another thing that gets my something that says... Leather, and upon further reading it's plastic, or PU leather. Can you make it ILLEGAL to mention leather when the product isnt leather.

macblank Mon 11-Feb-19 18:32:29

Another thing that gets my GOAT .... not something. lok

macblank Mon 11-Feb-19 18:37:58

Also....

What is.it with advertiser's deliberately adding sex or innuendo.

I can think of 2 right now where o e is a credit check company (has he got a big one/is it a 6,7, or even an 8) the other is a loan company, where the different shaped objects... The purple one in particular, acts as if he is flashing.

How do adds like this get through.

Do.you have an app to report bad adds?

poorbuthappy Mon 11-Feb-19 18:42:15

Yes is there any way to stop companies using sex to sell products which have nothing to do with sex pls?

whereisthepostman Mon 11-Feb-19 20:55:25

The Panorama programme I'm watching at the minute on BBC1 would suggest otherwise.

PRoseLegend Tue 12-Feb-19 00:23:44

MeMeBig YouTube is the worst for these "personalities" cashing in on vulnerable kids, especially craft and DIY channels selling crappy craft kits at exorbitant prices.
If you want honest reviews of craft kits, and some fun craft tutorials, check out Nerdecrafter on YouTube.

BSJohnson Tue 12-Feb-19 19:12:09

I lost any faith in the ASA when I complained about my 6 year old daily seeing London buses with a film title emblazoned on them including the word 'porno'.
Apparently the fact that my child could sound that out easily and was asking what that meant on her bus to school several times a week was not a problem.

MrsTumbletap Tue 12-Feb-19 19:47:20

All the adverts on a certain channel 5 children's television show on Sunday mornings. Beginning with M show ads that are very sexist and completely stereotype children into either aggressive boys or quiet calm girls.

There was an advert for a scruffy mucky looking toy animal dog that you wash and it goes all fluffy. So you are rescuing it, like a vet, fair enough. But it was completely aimed at girls. No boys in the ad, packaging aimed at girls and female child actors used. Why? Boys aren't allowed to care for animals?

Next there was a toy penguin that lit up or did something mundane, again aimed at girls, pink packaging, girl actors, why? Can't boys like penguins?

Next was the boy advert, a squeaky monster slime thing that sounds like a fart noise. 2 boy actors, no girls.

Stop stereotyping children! If a boy wants to look after a penguin and a girl wants to kick a football why can't they?

I hated as a child having to play with certain toys, I always wanted a remote control car like the boys had but was never allowed. Please can we make all toys gender free. Or at least have the animal in all colours and show boys and girls playing with them.

Where are the adverts showing boys playing nicely and caring for something? My son does and he is lovely.

spinabifidamom Wed 13-Feb-19 05:13:20

What is your plan for Facebook adverts?

frenchonion Wed 13-Feb-19 09:42:47

Jesus that needed paragraphs!

KatherinaMinola Wed 13-Feb-19 19:14:32

There are often some very sexualized ads (esp sexualized images of women) on Tube posters. Look at them through a child's eyes - I think these are harmful.

Can anything be done about them?

MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 19-Feb-19 16:38:22

Here is a statement from Lydia Marshall at ASA:

"Thanks for all the questions in response to our guest post. We’ve done our best to answer as many as possible here.

When it comes to YouTubers advertising their own merchandise on their channels, this is allowed under our rules – it is unlikely to need any form of labelling if the fact it’s an ad is clear within the context. It would need to be clear from the title and/or thumbnail that it was advertising if the whole video was about the merch, or in the video itself if it’s just a section in otherwise unrelated content. Claims for any products or merchandise would, of course, have to stick to our rules, not cause harm or offence and should be appropriately targeted.

Instagram requires users to be at least 13, and any ads for age-restricted products or that are inappropriate for an under-18 audience should not appear on accounts where the user is a child. Advertisers are able to target ads on social media platforms away from accounts where the interests or browsing history is in line with that of an underage person.

A common theme from your questions appears to be concern around the use of sex or innuendo in advertising. The use of sex or innuendo to advertise products is not, in and of itself, prohibited by our rules. But it does, of course, often prompt complaints. In judging whether the rules have been broken we have to consider the content of the ad, the context in which it appears and the audience that is likely to see it. Advertisers should exercise care when using overtly sexual content, and in particular ensure that they do not target children.

When it comes to gender stereotypes in ads, our new rule – which comes into force in June this year – will prevent advertisers from depicting harmful gender stereotypes. This doesn’t mean marketers can’t show girls playing with dolls and boys playing with cars – but they mustn’t suggest that stereotypical roles or characteristics are always uniquely associated with one gender, or are the only options available to one gender.

We don’t currently have an app-based option for reporting ads, but we are exploring ways to make our processes more efficient and effective, which could include lighter touch reporting tools for people to let us know what they think.

If you’d like any more information, please visit our website, and if you have concerns about an ad, fill in our online complaints form."

keepforgettingmyusername Sat 23-Feb-19 23:09:53

What a load of waffle. Meanwhile our kids keep watching toy reviews etc and demanding product based on same, advertisers aren't interested and the response is 'stop your kid watching YouTube' as if that's all mums ever do. As if even only 10/15 minutes on YouTube doesn't subject children to constant subliminal advertising on these type of videos.
Good work ASA .

MrsTumbletap Sun 10-Mar-19 08:42:35

Thanks you I really look forward to seeing the adverts not being targeted for a specific gender in June then. Does that mean I can complain if I do see one?

My son says "I wouldn't play with that it's for girls" this is something I have never said to him and he has learnt this through clear gender stereo typing in toys either through the product colours or the advertising (and possibly school too)

But he should be able to play with a doll, a car, art equipment etc without fear of not appearing 'like a boy'. Which is toxic masculinity beginning to shape his thought processes and choices in something as ridiculous as a toy.

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