Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both were Not upheld.
A pre-roll ad on YouTube for Maltesers, seen on 14 March 2019, featured three women, one of whom described how she had experienced a spasm during a romantic encounter with her new boyfriend, to the amusement and shock of her friends. The ad was seen before a George Ezra music video for the song ‘Hold My Girl’.
1. The ASA challenged whether the ad was for a product that was high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS product ad) that was directed at children through the media or context in which it appeared.
2. The complainant, who believed the ad was overly sexual, challenged whether the ad was irresponsibly targeted because it could be seen by children.
1. & 2. Mars Wrigley Confectionery UK Ltd (Mars) said that the ad was part of the “Look on the Light Side” campaign which portrayed how humour could overcome taboos and challenge perceptions of disability. While they accepted there was a sexual theme to the ad, they said it was important to portray all aspects of the lives of disabled people, including their sex lives. They were confident that the audience were more likely to find the ad humorous as opposed to being offended by it and that they had been responsible in that regard.
In broadcast media, the ad had been subject to scheduling restrictions and had been placed around adult themed programmes which minimised the risk of the ad being seen by children or other groups who were likely to be offended by its content. Mars said they accepted that the ad might not have been suitable for viewing by children.
In the context of digital marketing, Mars only ever targeted their ads at an 18 or over age demographic, which went further than the 16 and over threshold required for high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) products. They said that they had used a third-party media provider to purchase media on YouTube, which had used a combination of Nielson DAR ComScore and YT analytics to ensure that at least 75% of the audience for placed content was aged 18 years or over. Nielsen counted the number of times an ad was shown and would match data to a third-party provider to determine age and gender information and ComScore would count page views and streams.
With regards to obtaining information on demographics from YouTube, they looked at data from logged in users and this was up-weighted based on the total number of YouTube users. Mars stated that although this methodology did not exclude all users under the age of 18, it provided information on the artist’s audience and their age, which was taken into account when selecting the list of artists they chose to run activity alongside. Their media provider also had their processes and controls (that were in place to safeguard the appropriate use of advertising content) independently audited and approved.
They also stated that their media buying agency and the media provider had produced a bespoke list of approved artists who had less than 25% of their audience as being under 18. Mars ran their digital content across music videos for those artists. In this case George Ezra featured on the list of artists created by their media provider and the media buyer as being appropriate for marketing of their Maltesers brand. As such, over 75% of his audience was aged 18 or over and based on data analytics they understood that 96% of his audience on YouTube was aged 18 or over.
They were satisfied that using their media provider to source appropriate digital inventory meant that their advertising was only viewed by those of a suitable age. While the ad may not be suitable for children Mars stated they had taken steps to ensure the ad was unlikely to be viewed by those under 18, both from a HFSS perspective and on the grounds of causing widespread offence. While it was unfortunate that a child was able to view the ad, they believed the steps they had taken demonstrated they had targeted the ad appropriately.
Mars stated that on YouTube they used topic exclusions lists as well as ensuring that digital marketing was targeted at those over 18. The music content provided by their media provider also had an age rating generated by the music label itself. They stated that YouTube analytics had confirmed that George Ezra was not popular with under-16s as data showed that only 4% of his audience was under 18.
1. Not upheld
The CAP Code required that HFSS product ads must not be directed at people under 16 years of age through the selection of media or the context in which they appeared. The ad featured Maltesers chocolate, a HFSS product, and was therefore a HFSS product ad for the purposes of the Code.
The ASA considered that marketers should be able to demonstrate that they had taken reasonable steps to ensure that HFSS product ads were directed at an audience aged 16 and over so as to minimise children’s exposure to them. The ad appeared in between a compilation of music videos for the musician George Ezra. We considered that although George Ezra’s music and music videos may be of appeal to some under-16s, his music videos would not be of greater appeal to them than those aged 16 or over. We considered, therefore, that the video compilation during which the ad was seen was not media that was specifically for children.
We considered that age-restricted ads on online platforms should not be targeted solely based on age data, as younger users could misreport their age on social media or different people share the same device. Advertisers, however, should support that method of targeting by using interest based factors to help remove those aged under 16 years of age from the target audience of HFSS product ads.
We considered that the proportion of under-16s on the platform would be relevant in determining the extent to which interest-based or other behavioural targeting would be needed in order to ensure that the ad was not directed at under-16s. For instance, on platforms popular with under-16s, it could be necessary for marketers to both select interest based factors popular with adult audiences and de-select interest-based factors popular with under-16s. On the other hand, if an ad appeared in a medium that was used by hardly any under-16s, interest based targeting might, in those circumstances, be unnecessary.
We acknowledged that, while YouTube was a medium that was used by under-16s, data did not suggest that they made up a disproportionately high percentage of the platform's users. Mars had applied an age restriction which meant that the ad was only targeted to YouTube users whose reported age was 18 or over. Additionally, we reviewed Mars’ approach to excluding from the audience YouTube users who may be under 16 using interest based factors as well as data used by their third-party media provider who ensured that at least 75% of the audience was over 18. Their data also stated that 96% of George Ezra’s audience on YouTube was aged 18 or over. We further noted that the music label also applied age ratings to music videos and ad content was targeted accordingly.
We understood from the complainant that the ad had been seen by a child who was not signed into YouTube, using a device used by both adults and children. We acknowledged that the actions taken by Mars had not prevented that child from being served the ad. However, we considered that, because YouTube was a medium primarily used by those aged 18 and over and Mars had targeted the ad at users with a self-reported age of 18 and over, and they had used additional factors including interest-based targeting to further exclude under-18s from the target audience, Mars had taken reasonable steps to appropriately target the ad. We concluded that the ad had not been directed at those under 16.
On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 15.18 (HFSS product ad placement), but did not find it in breach.
2. Not upheld
The ASA noted that the ad featured a woman describing a romantic encounter which made mild references to sexual activity; it did not, however, contain any sexually explicit content. We considered that although younger children would be less able to understand the subtext of the scenario than older children, the ad did require careful placement to ensure that it was not viewed by children. We understood that in this case, the complainant’s child viewed the ad on a shared device which was not signed in to YouTube.
We understood that, based on YouTube data and audience information gathered from the advertiser’s media provider as well as the media buyer, children did not make up a significant proportion of the audience for both the artist and the platform. We therefore considered that George Ezra was not likely to be of particular appeal to children. We acknowledged that the advertiser had taken steps to ensure that the ad was not targeted to under-18s using both age and interest based targeting on YouTube, although that was subject to users being signed in. We also noted that the music label also provided age ratings for their artist’s music videos and that this was also taken into consideration when ads were placed.
We considered that although the ad would be distasteful to some it would not cause serious or widespread offence to viewers in general and that the advertiser had taken adequate measures to ensure that the ad was not irresponsibly targeted.
On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Social responsibility) and 4.1 (Harm and offence), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.