Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
The way in which children perceive and react to marketing communications is influenced by the age and the experience of the child and the context in which the message is delivered. Marketing communications addressed to, targeted directly at or featuring children must not exploit their credulity, loyalty, vulnerability or lack of experience (Rule 5.2) by, for example, making them feel inferior for not buying, or encouraging others to buy, the advertised product (Rule 5.2.1). In addition to the general rules in Section 5, Section 15 includes specific rules in relation to advertising food to children. Please see Food: General for more information.
The ASA upheld a complaint about a mailing sent to a 7 year old, “inviting” him to come to a theme park. Because the mailing was unsolicited and sent to a child incapable of understanding it was a marketing communication and not an invitation to a birthday party, the ASA considered that approach was likely to mislead recipients (The M&D Group, 19 March 2003). In 2006, the ASA rejected complaints that a mock-up of a children’s birthday party invitation could confuse children about the nature of the ad. Because it was an insert in lifestyle magazines and national press supplements, the ASA considered the charity fund-raising leaflet was unlikely to exploit children’s credulity or distress them (NSPCC, 22 November 2006).
Marketers should not encourage children to make a nuisance of themselves (Rule 5.4.1). In 2006, the ASA received complaints that a poster encouraged children to exert so-called ‘pester power’. In 2011 a TV ad for a supermarket featured numerous children partaking in typical activities (attending a birthday party, playing football and so on). Each of the children seemed more excited at the prospect of visiting the supermarket and was later shown excitedly opening packets of stickers. The ASA considered that showing children suddenly enthused in conjunction with the chance of winning a holiday to Disney Land was likely to encourage children to make a nuisance of themselves by pestering their parents to take them to the supermarket, and therefore considered the ad breached the Code (Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc, 26 October 2011).
Children should be able to grasp the main characteristics of the product (for example, its performance or functionality) or promotion (for example, understand the likelihood of winning a prize) and distinguish between real-life and fantasy. Where necessary, children should get adult permission before agreeing to buy costly goods or entering a competition if the prize might cause conflict (for example, holidays). The ASA has ruled against marcoms for products, such as mobile phone downloads, if the cost (and in some cases, the ongoing cost) has not been clear to the audience addressed (Walt Disney Company Ltd, 10 October 2007). Phrases such as “join the club” have been considered inadequate to convey to young audiences a long-term commitment.
The ASA concluded that the promoters of a website competition intended for 12 to 18 year olds had not dealt fairly and honourably with entrants because they announced they were extending the closing date by three months and then changed their minds. The ASA criticised the promoters for not taking into account the level of understanding and expectation of the target audience and told them to take more care when addressing competitions to children (Bandwagon Digital, 25 July 2007).