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Children and Advertising

Children hot topicThe ASA regulates UK ads to ensure they are truthful and socially responsible. A crucial part of that process is putting the protection of children at the heart of our work.

There is no escaping the fact that we live in a commercial world. This brings with it the potential risk of children viewing harmful or inappropriate material. However, while not everyone will agree, it is generally accepted that children are legitimate consumers who have the right to see and hear what advertisers have to say.

Our role, therefore, is to make sure that the ads targeted at or likely to be seen by them are appropriate and do not cause harm.

The advertising rules surrounding children are deliberately strict. This is because children are generally more credulous and lack the experience of adults to engage, critically assess and cope with commercial images and messages.

The ASA will not hesitate to ban any ad that could result in a child’s physical, mental or moral harm. Fortunately, the majority of advertisers are committed to preparing ads in a socially responsible way and working with us to get their ads right.

This doesn’t mean, however, we can ignore the reasonable concerns from various sections of society, including Government, health groups, family organisations and parents about various aspects of advertising and its potential impact on children.

Over the years the rules designed to protect children have been significantly tightened in response to societal concerns and evidence, for instance about unhealthy diets and underage drinking. Most recently, political concerns have been expressed at the highest level about the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood and the role that advertising may play in that.

The ASA has actively responded to this debate. We’re taking a tighter line when considering complaints about ‘sexualised imagery’ in outdoor advertising where children are likely to see it; have created a dedicated parents page on our website as well as a leaflet guide on the rules and how to complain, and have teamed up with other media regulators to launch ParentPort - a website that provides straightforward information on what parents can do if they feel they have seen or heard something inappropriate for their children in the media.

Our work in this area is an on-going commitment. We’ve launched Ad:Check, a schools resource to help enable children and young people to make a critical assessment of ads. We’re also exploring further how to address the findings from our Harm and Offence research (PDF) which revealed that 30% of young people (11-16 years) have been bothered by an ad in the last 12 months, with violent and sexual content, body image and charity ads most likely to be the source of distress.

It would, of course, be entirely impractical, if not impossible, to prevent children from seeing ads. As such, debates about advertising and its impact on children will doubtless continue and that is something we will not shy away from. We share the view that children should be protected from harmful or inappropriate material.

The Department for Education has now published its ‘stocktake’ of the Bailey Review recommendations. The stocktake is positive about the work we’ve done in response to those recommendations. The ASA and CAP agree that it is important we continue making sure the right protections are in place for children, by ensuring that advertising remains socially responsible and appropriately targeted.

We are committed to remaining vigilant and to listening carefully to parental and societal concerns, keeping up-to-speed with emerging advertising trends and new technology and, where ads break the rules, taking quick but proportionate action to have them removed. All of this will help us continue to provide a safe environment in which children can engage with ads and become equipped to understand and deal with the commercial world in which they live.

For further information, please read the ASA Hot Topic on Children and advertising (PDF).

The ASA's top five achievements in response to the Bailey Review Download The ASA's top 5 achievements in response to the Bailey Review (PDF)

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