Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Not upheld.
Two paid-for posts on Instagram for Walkers Max Strong crisps, seen on 2 March 2018:
a. The first ad was headed “PERFECT WITH BEER” and featured a birds-eye shot of a table on which were a pack of the product, a bowl of crisps and an open bottle of beer..
b. The second ad was headed “PERFECT BEER SNACKS WITH WALKERS MAX STRONG” and featured a birds-eye shot of a table on which were bowls of ingredients for Mexican food, and a man’s arm reaching for an open bottle of beer.
The complainant challenged whether the ads breached the Code, because:
1. they featured alcoholic drinks and were directed at people under 18 through the media or the context in which they appeared; and
2. were ads for products that were high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS products) that were directed at people under 16 through the media or context in which they appeared.
1. & 2. Walkers Snacks Ltd said they had taken steps to ensure the ads were appropriately targeted given that they featured an HFSS product and an alcoholic beverage. They had applied an age-restriction so that the ads would only be served to Instagram users registered as aged 18 to 44. They recognised that some Instagram users might register using a false age but highlighted measures that Instagram took to ensure that their users registered their age correctly. They also noted that because the ads were targeted to those registered as 18 or over, users who were under 16, but who had registered an age within two years of their actual age, would still not have seen the ad.
Additionally, Walkers explained that the ads had only been targeted to Instagram users categorised as 18 or over who were also included in one or other of two audience categories: people who had independent store loyalty cards; or those who had Visa cards, and who were therefore independently verified as being 18 or over. Walkers had also applied interest based factors to target the ads to people who were consumers of similar HFSS products, and who were interested in ‘Movies’, ‘Entertainment’ and ‘Music festivals’, which were interests often held by those over 16 or 18 years of age.
Walkers said they had not applied any interest based factors to exclude those aged under 18 from being served the posts, but they considered that in combination the three targeting methods they had used sufficiently addressed the risk of the ads being served to anyone under 18. The ads were clearly aimed at beer drinkers, and the content and context were such that they would not have particular or special appeal to those under 18.
1. & 2. Not upheld
The CAP Code required that alcohol ads must not be directed at people under 18 through the selection of media or the context in which they appeared. The Code also required that HFSS ads must not be directed at people under 16 through the selection of media or the context in which they appeared. Both ads featured images of beer and the HFSS product Walkers Max Strong crisps. Both ads were therefore alcohol ads and HFSS product ads for the purposes of the Code.
The ASA considered that marketers should take reasonable steps to target age-restricted ads appropriately. We considered that age-restricted ads on online platforms should not target audiences solely based on age data, because of younger users misreporting their age on social media or different people sharing the same device, and should support that method of targeting by using interest based factors to help remove those aged under 18 or 16 years from a target audience.
Walkers had used interest based factors to target the ads. The interest based groups they chose (snack foods, music, entertainment and music festivals) had the effect of targeting the ads to consumers who were more likely to be interested in the advertised product. However, we considered those interests were likely to have broad appeal and that the groups were likely to include children under the ages of 16 and 18 as well as older children and adults. Walkers had also not used interest based factors to exclude groups of people more likely to be under 16 or 18 from their target audience.
Notwithstanding that, in addition to targeting the ads only to Instagram users who were registered on the platform as aged from 18 to 44 years (and who were in one of the specified interest based groups), Walkers had ensured that the ads were only targeted to a sub-group of users who also had either a store loyalty card or a Visa card which required them to be aged 18 or older. We considered that external data was sufficient to corroborate the registered ages of the targeted group and that it was therefore unlikely that the ad had been targeted to anyone under the age of 18.
We concluded that Walkers had taken sufficient care to ensure that ads featuring alcohol and HFSS products were not directed at people under 18 and 16 respectively, and that the ads therefore did not breach the Code.
We investigated the ads under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 15.18 15.18 HFSS product advertisements must not be directed at people under 16 through the selection of media or the context in which they appear. No medium should be used to advertise HFSS products, if more than 25% of its audience is under 16 years of age. (HFSS product ad placement) and 18.15 18.15 Marketing communications must not be directed at people under 18 through the selection of media or the context in which they appear. No medium should be used to advertise alcoholic drinks if more than 25% of its audience is under 18 years of age. (Alcohol), but did not find them in breach.
No further action necessary.