In 2011, the Department of Education published a review of the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood, known as the Bailey Review.  The Review called on CAP to prohibit the employment of children as brand ambassadors or in peer-to-peer marketing.  Two main concerns were expressed.  Firstly, children might not realise they were being marketed to, exploiting their credulity and unduly influencing them to buy products.  Secondly, the practices might encourage children to think about their friendships in a commercial way and negatively influence their behaviour.

In response, CAP launched a year-long review of its own, inviting experts and stakeholders to submit evidence on this subject.  CAP wanted to understand the extent and range of commercial activity by children.  It also wanted to understand the potential impact on children and their peers, particularly online.

CAP found limited evidence of the use of children as brand ambassadors.  Its review came after an industry pledge not to employ under-16s as brand ambassadors.  The examples of children being employed in this way pre-dated the pledge.  They typically involved parental consent and were often not commercial.  However, CAP did find examples of marketers offering incentives for children to engage with them in social media.  Child internet users were required to “like”, “pin” or “re-tweet” brands to get access to games.  Children’s friendship groups would then see that the child had interacted with or endorsed the brand in some way.

CAP found that evidence on the impact of these activities was mixed.  Researchers disagreed on whether the use of child brand ambassadors was harmful to children.  There was also concern about the potential for regulatory intervention to deprive children of some of the benefits of being online.

CAP then considered whether all of the practices identified in the Bailey Review were within remit of its Code.  Some were not.  It also considered the legal context: the law allowed children over 13 to undertake employment.  Careful consideration of the law suggested it might not be justifiable to prevent children from seeking employment.

For those reasons, CAP’s review concluded that it was not proportionate or justified to introduce new rules to the Code.  Instead, CAP published guidance to remind marketers that their activity should be obviously identifiable, whoever conducted it.  Brand ambassador or peer-to-peer marketing activity was required to do nothing likely to result in physical, mental or moral harm of children.  Nor should it make children feel inferior or unpopular if they did not have a product.  Marketers were urged to prepare their campaigns with a sense of social responsibility.  They were encouraged to seek parental consent before engaging children as brand ambassadors.

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