Protecting children online: building a zero-tolerance culture to age-restricted ads in children's media

We have published the findings from our latest online monitoring sweep, which has helped us identify and tackle age-restricted ads appearing in children’s media.

Advertisers placing age-restricted ads online are required, under the Advertising Code, to target their ads away from child audiences.

In the first phase of a year-long project, we undertook a CCTV-style watch and prioritised identifying and tackling 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).

Over a three month period, using monitoring tools to capture ads served on a sample of over 50 websites and YouTube channels attracting a disproportionately high child audience, we:

  • identified a number of instances where the ad rules were broken
  • are taking follow-up action to contact the advertisers whose ads broke the rules to secure the removal of the problem ads; and
  • warned the advertisers to review and, as necessary, amend their practices to ensure they target future ads responsibly

In summary, we found that: 

  • Overall, 159 age-restricted ads broke the advertising rules
  • In total, 35 advertisers placed age-restricted ads in 34 websites and 5 YouTube channels media aimed at or attracting a disproportionately large child audience

A breakdown of each product category reveals the following number of breaches:


  • 70 different betting ads from 4 gambling operators appeared on 8 websites


  • 10 different alcohol ads from 1 brand appeared on 1 website

E-cigarettes and tobacco:

  • 1 e-cigarette ad appeared on 1 website


  • 78 different HFSS ads from 29 advertisers appeared on 24 websites and 5 YouTube channels

While HFSS ads should be targeted away from children and children’s media, the ASA’s monitoring picked up on a broad diversity of HFSS ads which broke the rules, with the majority being unlikely to appeal to children. For example, ads for butter, nuts, seeds and cooking sauces are included in the results. While classified as high in fat, sugar or salt, they represent a technical breach of the rules.

Harnessing innovative monitoring technology as part of its five year strategy, More Impact Online, is enabling the ASA to better protect children by acting at scale and speed to tackle ads which are found to be targeted irresponsibly.

The ASA will run this monitoring exercise quarterly over the next twelve months, to pick-up instances of and take action where age-restricted ads are served to child audiences. The ASA will report publically on these figures, as well as compliance action taken against repeat offenders, and share them with relevant industry groups.


Advertising Standards Authority Chief Executive, Guy Parker said:

“The ASA is using technology to proactively monitor online ads to help build a culture of zero tolerance for age-restricted ads appearing on websites aimed at children. We expect advertisers and the parties they contract with to use the sophisticated tools available to them to target their ads responsibly. This is just one part of a wider set of initiatives we’re undertaking to ensure children are protected online and we’ll report on our further work in this area in the coming months.”


An infographic setting out the findings of our latest monitoring work.


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