With the recent celebration of World Children’s Day, we thought it would be a good time to remind marketers of what is expected from them when advertising to children. This is especially topical with the festive season nearly upon us, where new toys and games flood the market and therefore more ads featuring these products are likely to appeal to and target children.
The Codes define children as under 16 years old and contain specific requirements for targeting children and young people. Many rules in the Codes reflect the CPRs which help protect children from unfair trading practices, including being misled, exploited or harmed by advertising.
Be clear and don’t pressure
Generally speaking, there is no blanket prohibition on advertising products to children, but marketers should not make a direct appeal to children to buy products or persuade their parents or other adults to buy for them. Similarly, you should not encourage children to make a nuisance of themselves nor undermine parental authority.
As well as this, you must clearly present the main characteristics of the offer/product, ensure you are clear about any commitments and include a clear statement if adult permission is necessary. It is always important to consider a child’s age and experience in considering how they may understand marketing communications. Generally, ads targeting children must not exploit their credulity, loyalty, vulnerability or lack of experience.
While it is acceptable for ads to present products to children in a positive light, they should avoid suggesting that a child might be unpopular, disloyal, or lacking in courage by not owning or buying the featured product.
Keep it safe and do no harm
Marketers must ensure that there is nothing in an ad that is addressed to, targeted at or features a child that could result in a child’s physical, mental or moral harm. Ads featuring children should not encourage irresponsible or dangerous practices and marketers should ensure that they do not use unsuitable, offensive or distressing material. Further to this, children must not be encouraged to take, or be shown taking, risks or to copy unsafe or possibly socially undesirable practices.
Marketers should also be careful when using potentially distressing or offensive images, such as depicting violence or sexual imagery in untargeted media.
Although the Codes define a child as anyone under 16, some rules also require placement away from young people (i.e. 16-17 year olds). A huge number of children and young people use the internet to (among other things) play games and visit social networking sites. We therefore advise marketers to check the audience profiles of any media they plan to advertise in, online and offline, in order to satisfy themselves that they are not at risk of targeting the wrong age groups.
Marketers must take care with ads for age-restricted products, and not target products such as alcoholic drinks, gambling products and electronic cigarettes at children and young people - or lotteries and foods/soft drinks high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) at children. This includes ensuring that ads are not placed in or around media obviously directed at the protected age category, such as games websites, for young children.
Those wishing to advertise alcohol, e-cigarettes, and gambling also need to be aware that their marketing should not have a “particular appeal” to children. Whilst this depends very much on context, generally marketers should avoid using cartoon characters or words or images associated with youth culture.