Alcohol brands should distill the way they target their ads, according to an ASA report.

The ASA has worked with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube to identify trends in the targeting of ads by alcohol brands through logged-in social media. It focused on children falsely registered as, or incorrectly inferred to be, 18 years of age or older on social media. The social media platforms submitted brand-anonymised targeting data to the ASA relating to over 2,000 alcohol campaigns.

The ASA identified several incidences of good practices. For example, several alcohol campaigns targeted people who were 25+, minimising the possibility of reaching child account holders.

However, the ASA found that some alcohol brands could, and should, have done more to minimise the possibility of their ads being delivered to children - whether inadvertently or not.

Some of the ASA’s key insights on targeting practices include:

  • A handful of ad campaigns did not appear to use any age targeting at all. This was very concerning to the ASA and “totally at odds with the letter and spirit of the UK advertising rules and guidance”.
  • For the majority that selected an age 18+ audience, many didn’t select any ‘interests’ options to give greater confidence in reaching an adult, rather than a child.
  • The ASA saw limited evidence of advertisers actively barring their ads from being targeted to audience groups that have interests in topics and themes very strongly associated with under 18s.

Specifically, the ASA assessed how alcohol brands targeted their ads based on age and audiences’ online interests to see if the selections made were in line with CAP guidance, which cautions advertisers of age-restricted ads from relying on age-range targeting options only. This effectively requires them to make ‘interests’ selections to ensure their ads are targeted to an adult audience and away from children. For example, insurance is likely to appeal to adults (not sure I can think of anyone who is actually 'interested' in insurance, but still...).  Football may be more nuanced and advertisers may need to think more carefully and combine football with a topic like house-buying to exclude children.

Platforms take a range of steps to age-verify their users. Ofcom research indicates, however, that a significant minority of children are registered on social media with a false date of birth, with the likelihood that some of these children will be registered as being 18+.  That said, alcohol brands may use their own data to reduce the possibility of targeting ads to the wrong people. The ASA plans to draw the findings to the attention of the alcohol industry, encouraging good practice, but telling it to more strictly observe the guidance. The younger the adult demographic being targeted, the more care you must take.

The ASA says that it is now conducting a follow-up monitoring and enforcement project, which will aim to identify whether, in reality, they receive age-restricted ads in their social media accounts.