The Advertising Standards Authority (the 'ASA') is constantly developing its rules and guidance with a view to protecting the public.

A recent guidance note from the ASA illustrates that 'public' captures all ages of consumer and indicates that children and young adults are very much on the ASA's radar.

On the 13 April 2017 the ASA's, 'Media Placement Restrictions: Protecting Children and Young People' guidance was published (the 'Guidance'). The Guidance applies specifically to products which are subject to legal restrictions on age, such as alcohol, gambling and credit, which can only be offered to individuals of 18 years and over. The ASA refers to the marketing of these products as 'age-restricted marketing' and so marketers carrying out such marketing must now practice greater care to ensure adherence to the Guidance.

The Guidance states that age-restricted marketing should not appear in media for children or children and young people and in media where children or children and young people 'make up a significant proportion of the audience'. It is clear that the main purpose of the Guidance is to protect children and young people from being targeted with products that they are legally restricted from accessing.

Marketers must take 'appropriate steps' to understand the likely composition of their audience prior to placement of their age-restricted marketing. In the Guidance, the ASA simplifies the methods of targeting marketing communications into two categories:

  • Method (a) includes use of information on the whole of the audience composition. For example, it would be contrary to the Guidance to include an advertisement for finance on a new car as a pull out in a children's magazine, as the whole of the audience composition would be children; and
  • Method (b) includes use of individual information from account data or inferred data providing a reasonable expectation of their age. For example, if an individual registers with an account on a vehicle manufacturer website and subsequently receives an invitation, via email, to view the latest deals on vehicle finance, this would not be contrary to the Guidance where their account data indicates that they are aged 18 or over.

The three general requirements

As a response to the above methods, the ASA has developed three general requirements. The first two requirements, which apply in relation to method (a) are:

1. that age restricted marketing communications must not be placed in or around media obviously directed at the protected age category; and

2. that they should not be placed in media where the protected age category makes up more than 25% of the audience.

Requirement (2) applies where the likely audience of a medium cannot reasonably be determined from a single assessment. . To demonstrate compliance, marketers can present audience measurement data for the intended medium, demonstrating that the relevant protected age category comprises 25% or less of the total audience.

Where there is no audience data available, the ASA will look to other factors such as themes and imagery to assess the likely appeal and audience composition. This reminds marketers that when producing age restricted marketing, it is not just the placement that matters but the content of the advertisement itself, particularly when producing material to be advertised in social media which is capable of being viewed by a large cross section of society.

The third requirement, which applies in relation to method (b) is:

3. that marketers must show they have taken reasonable steps to reduce the likelihood of those who are or who are likely to be in the protected age category being exposed to age-restricted marketing communications. So, where the marketers are selecting who to direct their age-restricted marketing communications to, they must ensure that they use dedicated data-based age-targeting mechanisms, such as sign-up data, wherever it is available. The only defence available to marketers, in the case of direct marketing communications, is that the data was used in good faith and that an error occurred which was beyond the marketer's control.

There is no specific type of audience data that marketers should use and the ASA will, in the event of a complaint, assess each situation on a case-by-case basis. The Committee of Advertising Practice acknowledges that the extent, nature and precision of audience data available to marketers varies between media however, marketers should endeavour to make best use of whatever data is available to them either directly or through the publisher or media owner, to ensure that they develop a clear picture of the likely audience of a medium or specific piece of content.

The ASA has determined that media directed at the general population such as circulars distributed to households, are unlikely to be directed at a protected age group because no protected age category comprises more than 25% of the population however, where the placement of media skews the likely audience towards a particular group, for example an outdoor advertisement placed near a school, it is likely that the advertisement would be considered to breach the Guidance.

In the near future, the ASA will be publishing further guidance regarding the placement of age-restricted marketing in social media but in the meantime, it is vital that marketers ensure they are regularly collecting and reviewing data on their intended audience when placing age restricted marketing communications.