Ad description

A TV ad, for Plan UK, stated "Today, girls as young as eight face the worst day of their lives, their wedding day …". It told of the experience of two girls and stated "You can help stop this by sponsoring a girl with Plan UK today. You can help build safer communities that value girls, that keep girls out of child marriage and in school. Please text 'hope' to [quick code] because hundreds of girls need someone special like you to sponsor them right now. Your sponsorship can mean a young girl can get an education, have access to clean water, healthcare; all the things that give her strength and hope. You'll see what a difference you make to her and her friends. And you'll love receiving letters from the girl you sponsor and the moving updates we'll send you. If you want to give a girl a chance in life, please text [quick code] or visit [website address] and find out how you can sponsor a girl. Please help give a girl a brighter future today. Thank you".


The complainant challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied donors would sponsor, and receive updates from, an individual child.


Plan International UK (PLAN) believed their ad was a fair and accurate representation of the process of sponsorship. They explained that under a community model of child sponsorship used by themselves and other international development organisations, a donor contributed to a collective fund and then followed the effectiveness of their financial support by the impact it had on one particular child (with whom the sponsor communicated), as well as other children (by receiving regular reports on programmes implemented in the sponsored child's community). The model therefore provided a link with a child, an opportunity to correspond with and visit the child, and an insight into the development process. PLAN considered the personal link between a sponsor and a child to be an essential part of their work. They explained that donations were used to support community-based projects benefitting all children within that area, including sponsored children, for example in relation to education, health and access to clean water. They understood that the four largest international development agencies who promoted child sponsorship in the UK used the model.

PLAN explained that when someone became a sponsor, they were assigned an individual sponsored child unique to them. Sponsors could choose the gender, country and age of their sponsored child, receive photographs and a letter or drawing, and were encouraged to correspond with the child. Sponsors were able to visit their sponsored child to see first-hand the projects they were helping to fund. Sponsors also received reports written by children about community projects, as well as a report on specific problems relating to development in that country.

PLAN said the ad adhered to the Child Sponsorship Charter of 2011, which had drawn up guidelines through a forum of leading charities and other organisations such as the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP). For example, they pointed out the ad stated "You can help build safer communities that value girls, that keep girls out of marriage, and in school" and that met the guidance in Paragraph 3.3 of the Child Sponsorship Charter which stated "Agencies which do not restrict use of all funds directly for the child's benefit should communicate this practice in sponsorship marketing materials". They also pointed out the ad referred to the benefits sponsorship brought including "education, access to clean water and healthcare". They believed the public were aware that such far-reaching community projects, which benefitted all girls in a community including sponsored girls, were only possible by pooling sponsorship money.

The ad also referred to the issue of child marriage using two case studies and informed the viewer that they could help by "sponsoring a girl with Plan UK". They said that child sponsorship, in the form operated by them and other agencies, was designed to have maximum reach and impact to help prevent issues such as child marriage through projects that included keeping girls in education. They noted the ad stated "You'll see what a difference you make to her and her friends. And you'll love receiving letters from the girl you sponsor, and the moving updates we send you" and believed this was in accordance with paragraph 3.1 of the Child Sponsorship Charter which stated "Agencies who promise or imply benefits to sponsored children in their marketing materials ought to have procedures to confirm that sponsored children received implied or promised benefits".

PLAN explained that whilst they operated a community model of child sponsorship, their policy also encompassed the delivery and tracking of benefits for sponsored children. For example, every community where sponsored children lived would benefit from a PLAN programme every year and all sponsored children and their families were informed every year of PLAN's local programmes and were invited to participate in them. To ensure this, every sponsored child was interviewed once a year to gain information that would be passed on to their sponsor and local facilitators visited each sponsored child and their families more than once a year to check on their welfare and to pass/receive letters.

Clearcast fully endorsed PLAN's response to the complaint and did not believe the ad was misleading. They said they were aware, at the time of approving the ad, that the money did not go to an individual girl but to a community the girl lived in and therefore improvements made within that community would impact on that girl's life, which she would express in her letters and pictures sent to her sponsor. They did not believe the ad misled the viewer on how their money would be spent, as the voice-over made clear that the money would be spent on things that would benefit whole communities such as education, healthcare and clean water. They also understood that the sponsor would receive regular updates from an individual child so they could see how the child's life was being improved by the changes being implemented.


Not upheld

The ASA noted that the ad referred repeatedly to "sponsoring a girl", and we acknowledged that this could be interpreted by viewers to mean donations would fund individual children. However, we considered the overall impression of the ad was that whilst there would be a personal relationship between the sponsored girl and her donor, donations would fund community-based projects that would benefit her as well as others in the local area in which she lived. We considered that viewers generally were likely to understand from the voice-over where it stated "you can help build safer communities", "your sponsorship can mean a young girl can get an education, have access to clean water, healthcare" and "you'll see what a difference you make to her and her friends" that their donations would fund community-wide initiatives rather than provide direct funding to individual children. We understood that donors were assigned an individual child with whom they could send and receive letters and that their donations were put towards local initiatives which benefitted the community as a whole, including the sponsored child, for example in relation to education, health and clean water. For those reasons, we concluded the ad was not misleading.

We investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules  3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.  and  3.2 3.2 Advertisements must not mislead consumers by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that consumers need in context to make informed decisions about whether or how to buy a product or service. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead consumers depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the advertisement is constrained by time or space, the measures that the advertiser takes to make that information available to consumers by other means.
 (Misleading advertising) and  16.3.1 16.3.1 misrepresent the body, its activities or the benefits of donated funds or exaggerate the scale or nature of the cause it claims to support  (Charities), but did not find it in breach.


No further action necessary.


16.3.1     3.1     3.2    

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