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A major alcohol firm pulled all ads from Snapchat because it can't be 100% sure children weren't seeing them

ASADiageo ran a sponsored Snapchat Lens which turned the user into Captain Morgan.

Multi-billion pound drinks giant Diageo has suspended all its ads on Snapchat after the UK’s advertising watchdog ruled that the alcohol firm couldn’t be 100% sure its ads weren’t being seen by underage users.

We first saw the news via The Wall Street Journal.

Diageo produces drinks such as Gordon’s Gin and Smirnoff, and has an estimated $US2.3 billion (£1.7 billion) to spend on media, making the firm an advertising powerhouse.

The Advertising Standards Authority ruled on Wednesday that Diageo couldn’t be absolutely sure that ads for its rum brand, Captain Morgan, were only seen by Snapchat users aged 18 and above. Diageo’s ad was a sponsored lens that made the user look like Captain Morgan, and the firm claimed it was only targeted at users over the age of 18.

But the ASA cited Ofcom research from 2016 which found 34% of a group of 104 8- to 11-year-olds used Snapchat. Snapchat has a minimum user age of 13.

“We considered that the report was indicative that at least some of the audience of children on Snapchat were younger than the minimum age of 13 years old,” the watchdog said. “We considered that this called into question the adequacy of self-reported age as the sole means of targeting alcohol advertising on Snapchat.”

The ASA also said the lens was likely to appeal to under-18s – which is against UK advertising rules. The watchdog said: “We considered that the icon was a bright, child-like cartoon image which we noted was similar in style to the other icons for non-paid for Snapchat lenses.”

Diageo said it took reasonable steps to make sure its Snapchat ads were not seen by anyone under the age of 18, but that it had suspended advertising with Snapchat.

A spokeswoman said: “We have a strict marketing code, take our role as a responsible marketer very seriously and acknowledge the ASA’s ruling. We took all reasonable steps to ensure the content we put on Snapchat was not directed at under 18s – using the data provided to us by Snapchat and applying an age filter.

“We have now stopped all advertising on Snapchat globally whilst we assess the incremental age verification safeguards that Snapchat are implementing.”

The UK has strict rules around advertising alcohol on TV and online. Alcohol brands cannot advertise on media where 25% of the audience is under 18, nor can they actively try and appeal to under-18s through their ads.

Snap Inc, Snapchat’s parent, disagreed that Diageo “intentionally” targeted its ads to underage users and said it was disappointed by the decision. It argued its targeting had been accurate at the time, and that it has since added more age-targeting options for advertisers.

A Snap spokeswoman said the company was working with Diageo to highlight those new options, and said it didn’t just rely on user information about their date of birth. Snap also analyses data around your behaviour and interests to work out whether you are as old as you say you are.

Diageo’s ad ran in June 2017, meaning the ASA’s ruling comes long after the campaign ended. Even so – it’s a blow for Snap in the UK, which may have to reassure nervous alcohol advertisers that its targeting is up to scratch.

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