During the Christmas holidays the UK government slipped out a “technical” consultation about promotions of foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) including a proposal to ban online promotions of such foods altogether. Therefore, it is very timely that CAP has issued guidance on age-restricted ads online.

Social media and data sharing platforms are a very popular medium for advertising, especially due to the data that can be collected and therefore the targeting that can be carried out. However, it is important that ads for age-restricted products are targeted appropriately and the CAP Code includes media placement restrictions protecting the under 16s from being targeted with ads for products such as HFSS foods and soft drinks, and under 18s from being targeted with ads for products such as gambling, alcohol and e-cigarettes.

CAP has now issued new non-broadcast guidance for marketers using online media, especially programmatic advertising and paid-for advertising and organic content appearing on social media and video-sharing platforms. It should also be used by affiliates and influencers. We have included a link to the latest guidance below.

It also points advertisers to its general guidance on media placement.

The guidance aims to supports marketers with demonstrating that they have taken adequate steps in targeting age-restricted communications to limit under 18s’ exposure to them, and to satisfy the ASA that they have complied with the CAP Code. The guidance may assist other organisations too, such as, for example, those targeting video games.

Using online marketing tools allows marketers to define their target audience to varying extents.  Targeting can also exclude certain recipients, which is a central point on which the CAP guidance is based. There are various reasons in which targeting can lead to compliance difficulties, such as children lying about their age, or sharing devices. That said, the guidance highlights the fact that although children may lie about their age, they are likely to show interest in topics that interest children, so accurate targeting is still possible. In addition, the general rules apply such ensuring age-restricted ads do not contain elements which particularly appeal to children.

CAP’s rules on targeting set a threshold that requires marketers to apply a media placement restriction if more than 25% of the medium’s audience is in the protected category.

The guidance covers the ASA’s approach to enforcement and says that if a complaint is made that an ad has been inappropriately targeted, the ASA will assess the marketer’s placement and targeting decisions within the context that the ad appears. It will also assess cases from the perspective of where the ad was seen, for example, an influencer’s followers.

Marketers are encouraged to use as many audience data sources and/or targeting tools as are available for a given platform. The guidance also says that understanding of requirements should be incorporated into compliance processes and campaign planning, including third party partners.

The guidance provides further details on specific scenarios:

Media for children and young people - age-restricted marketing communications must not be placed in or around media or content that is “obviously directed” at a protected age category. This requirement applies irrespective of how a marketing communication is targeted; whether contextual or using more sophisticated data-driven targeting techniques

Targeting paid-for and programmatic ads - using age data alone will probably not be sufficient, interest and behavioural data should be used, including external data. As an example, marketers could use credit card data to establish users are 18 or over.

Limiting exposure to organic marketing communications - advertisers are strongly encouraged to make best use of what data is available to them – either directly or through the publisher or media owner – to develop as clear a picture as possible of the likely audience of a medium or specific piece of content. Where audience data is unavailable or is to a significant extent unreliable, the ASA is likely to rely on other factors to assess likely appeal and therefore likely audience composition such as the media content in or around which an ad appeared – including themes, imagery and the like – and the context in which it appeared. It will also consider if an account is open or closed and therefore whether it can be viewed by users who have not logged in.