The protection of children sits at the heart of the Advertising Codes and our work. Our own research with consumers tells us that what concerns them most about advertising is what children may see and hear.
Because of their lack of life experience, children are less likely to be as well equipped to understand and process commercial messages in ads than adults. They are also often more sensitive and likely to be adversely affected by inappropriate, scary or offensive images.
As such, the rules in place to protect them are deliberately strict. Ads must not contain anything that is likely to result in the mental, physical or moral harm of a child.
The rules prohibit ads from depicting children in hazardous situations or encouraging them to engage in dangerous behaviour. They also prevent ads from undermining parental authority or placing unfair pressure on children to buy products. The rules are regularly reviewed and updated in light of the latest research and advertising techniques.
Similarly, the rules are designed to protect other vulnerable groups in society such as the elderly, those with physical or mental health problems or people with financial worries. For example, the rules around age-restricted products such as alcohol, gambling or payday loans place an emphasis on ensuring they are promoted responsibly; for instance, by not encouraging irresponsible consumption of alcohol, not linking gambling with social or sexual success, toughness or recklessness and not suggesting that a high-cost short-term loan should be spent on non-essential items like holidays.
Our work in ensuring children are protected from harmful advertising is ongoing and doesn’t just include making sure the content of ads is appropriate. There are also rules about the targeting of ads to ensure they are not seen by children if they are likely to cause them harm. For example, ‘overtly sexual’ outdoor imagery is prohibited and material considered ‘sexually suggestive’ should carry a placement restriction, ensuring it does not appear within 100 metres of a school.
Ads for alcohol and gambling should not be targeted at, or likely to directly appeal to under 18s, by reflecting, or being associated with youth culture. Also, they should not imply drinking or gambling take priority in life, make you more popular or successful, or are indispensable. Ads for alcohol, gambling, payday loans and food and drink ads should not use cartoons or licensed characters which appeal to children. Furthermore, ads for food and drink products that are classed as being high in fat, salt or sugar aren’t allowed to appear in or on any dedicated children's media.