Recent complaints that David Beckham’s whiskey ad promotes drinking among children remind brands of the ever-present danger of inappropriate age targeting.
But in a programmatic world, where tight controls can be placed over who sees a particular advert, such concerns may become a thing of the past.
Although the ASA gave Beckham’s Haig Club campaign the green light, the reasons behind that decision contained salutary points for advertisers.
One of the key objections to the advert, which featured the former England captain enjoying a drink with various glamorous pals, was that Beckham’s own status as a youth icon effectively prevented him from advertising certain products, given that he is likely to have a strong influence over children’s behaviour.
The ASA’s reasoning upheld that line of argument. The watchdog cleared the advert on the basis that Beckham’s football career in Britain was too far in the past for his image to have particular resonance with under-18s in this country today, the clear inference being that public figures who do have a strong appeal to minors, should not advertise certain products. This chimes with other ASA decisions, for example banning a gambling advert featuring Transformers character Optimus Prime, or an alcohol advert which starred an animated parrot.
Rule 1.3 of the CAP Code, which governs non-broadcast advertising in the UK, requires advertisers to prepare marketing communications with “a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society”. There are further specific rules relating to gambling and alcohol, for example, rule 18.14 requires that adverts for booze should not appeal to under-18s “especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture”.
While it could be argued that creatives should simply know where these lines are drawn and tailor their adverts accordingly, adtech techniques could be about to render such considerations unnecessary.
This can be illustrated by another ASA ruling concerning a Facebook page for an online bingo game, which featured furry cartoon characters.
Such illustrations would ordinarily breach the CAP code by appealing to children. However, because access to the page was restricted to over-18s, the ASA decided that there was no breach.
By extension, if data-driven online advertising can establish in advance that an individual is under 18, then that individual will not be served with an age restricted advert. Such an advert would then not breach the CAP Code, even if by its nature it was likely to appeal to minors.
Intelligent targeting, therefore, offers a potential wider benefit to society in preventing children from being exposed to adverts to harmful products, and prevents brands from being caught out in instances such as the Beckham case. It may not be the fundamental purpose of programmatic, but it is certainly a fringe benefit that advertisers can raise a glass to.