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 CAP Code contains specific requirements for targeting children and young people. For the purposes of the Code, a child is defined as anyone under the age of 16. Rule 5.4.2 states “Marketing communications addressed to or targeted at children must not make a direct exhortation to children to buy an advertised product or persuade their parents or other adults to buy an advertised product for them.” Put simply, marketers should not exhort children to buy the advertised product.

Section 5 also states that ads featuring children should not encourage irresponsible or dangerous practices and marketers should ensure that they do not use unsuitable, offensive or distressing material.

In 2011, the Department for Education published a report entitled 'Letting Children be Children', highlighting a number of concerns regarding the sexualisation and commercialisation of children and childhood. As part of the ASA’s response to some of the issues raised, it reconsidered its position in relation to sexualised imagery in posters. Some previously acceptable ‘overtly sexual’ outdoor imagery is now prohibited and material considered ‘sexually suggestive’ should carry a placement restriction, ensuring it does not appear within 100 metres of a school.

Following the review, the ASA received a complaint about an underwear ad which showed a woman standing by a mantelpiece wearing a bra, knickers, stockings and stiletto shoes. The complainants challenged whether the ad was unsuitable for display where it might be seen by children. The ASA noted that the image did not contain any nudity and that, while it was likely to be considered sexually suggestive, the advertisers had applied a placement restriction to the copy and therefore considered it acceptable (J D Williams & Company Ltd, 14 March 2012).

In 2012 the ASA rejected complaints about a direct mailing in the form of a DVD from the NSPCC which stated on its cover "KERRY'S FATHER ASKED HER TO DO THE UNTHINKABLE. AND THEN HE FILMED IT". The advertisers explained that the mailing had been carefully targeted to over 18’s and, whilst they couldn’t be sure children didn’t live at the address to which the mailing had been sent, the ASA considered that children were unlikely to understand the message and considered the mailing acceptable (National Society For The Prevention of Cruelty to Children, 21 March 2012).

Although the Code defines a child as anyone under 16, we advise marketers to check the reader profiles of media to satisfy themselves that they are not unwittingly targeting the wrong age groups. Marketers of alcoholic drinks, gambling products, lotteries, electronic cigarettes and foods/soft drinks high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) should take special care. Marketing communications for diets should not appeal particularly to those under 18 (Rule 13.3).

See ‘Children: Safety’, ‘Children: Money’, ‘Alcohol: The Young’, 'Food: HFSS media placement' and ‘Betting and Gaming: Appeal to Children’.

Updated 29 June 2017

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