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 Code does not prevent marketers from using images of children but they should do so in a socially responsible manner. On 2 January 2018 Code rules 4.8 and 4.13 were added to the CAP and BCAP Codes respectively. These rules state that ads should not portray or represent anyone who is, or seems to be, under 18 years old in a sexual way. This does not apply to ads whose principal function is to promote the welfare of, or to prevent harm to, under 18s, provided any sexual portrayal or representation is not excessive.

Rulings published before the 2 January may refer to the age of a child being under 16, however the new rules strengthen the existing position and ensure protection for those under 18, rather than those under 16. When looking at these rulings please be aware that the ASA will now consider whether models look, or are under 18.

When assessing ads the ASA will consider whether models seem to be younger than 18, as well as their real age. It is not acceptable to present models in a sexual way if they could appear to be under 18, even if they are over 18. In March 2015, the ASA upheld a complaint about an image of a model in an ad for a thong bodysuit. The ASA considered that, whilst the model was 20 years old, she had a youthful appearance in the ad and some consumers were likely to regard her as being younger than 16. As the models expression and pose were considered sexual in nature, the ad could be seen to sexualise a child and was so was found irresponsible (American Apparel (UK) Ltd, 18 March 2015).

If a model could appear to be under 18, marketers should consider the way the model is presented to ensure that they are not done so in a sexual way. The clothing, make up, pose and gaze of models may be taken into consideration, alongside any text. In March 2016, three complaints about two posters for the clothing company Nobody’s Child were upheld. Both posters depicted a model posing with her legs parted, and looking directly into the camera with her lips parted. The ASA considered that the models pose and facial expression were sexually suggestive, and that her young appearance in conjunction with the prominent brand name “nobody’s child” meant that she could be regarded as appearing to be a child (Nobody’s Child Ltd, 30 March 2016).

Symbols of youth, such as school uniforms, will be unacceptable if used in a sexual context. In 2008 an airline ad, featuring a young woman standing in a class room and wearing a cropped school uniform, was considered unacceptable because it was offensive and socially irresponsible to link schoolgirls with sexually provocative dress and behaviour (Ryanair Ltd, 30 January 2008). Similarly, a complaint was also upheld in 2010 against an ad that featured the phrase ‘back 2 school party’ in conjunction with an image of a woman dressed as a school girl (Spearmint Rhino Company Europe Ltd, 10 November 2010).

Marketers should be mindful of targeting, and ensure that as well as ensuring that ads do not sexualise people who are, or seen to be under 18 year olds, the placement of ads which include any sexual content is targeted appropriately. See ‘Children: Targeting’ and ‘Offence: Sex'.

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