Advertising to children this holiday season

Dec 15th '23

Like it or loathe it, the lights are already going up, and the Christmas ads have started to air. Gift-giving season is a special time of year for many youngsters, and as new toys and games hit the market, we’d like to take the opportunity to remind marketers of the rules around advertising to children.


  • Age-restricted products

The Codes define children as under-16s, young people as 16–17-year-olds. A huge number of children and young people use the internet to play games and visit social networking sites. But certain types of ads should not be displayed or delivered to these age groups.


Marketers must take care with ads for age-restricted products, which include:


  • alcoholic drinks,
  • gambling products
  • electronic cigarettes
  • lotteries
  • foods/soft drinks high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS).


CAP advise marketers to check the audience profiles of any media they plan to advertise these products in, to satisfy themselves that they are not targeting the wrong age groups.


Those wishing to advertise alcohol and e-cigarettes also need to be aware that the content of their ads 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.


As of October 2022, the rules on ads for gambling are a little stricter. Now, an ad only has to have “strong appeal” to children (as opposed to particular appeal) in order to break the rules. As the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) guidance on the new rule explains, depictions of characters like ‘Santa Claus’ in gambling ads are high risk, and rhymes and festive practices that are popular with children are likewise a risk.


  • Enhanced disclosure

The Code says that all ads should be “obviously identifiable” as ads, but particular care needs to be taken with ads that target under-12s. Children in this age group find it particularly hard to recognise ads and tell them apart from non-commercial content. Because of this, there is a requirement for ads to contain “enhanced disclosure” that they are ads.


Enhanced disclosures in ads for under-12s should be:


  • within or right next to the marketing communication;
  • of significant size and colour to stand out; and
  • readily apparent before (if possible) or immediately at the point of engagement.


They should also make clear who the advertiser is.


Several banner ads for toys broke the rules even though they contained an “ADVERTISEMENT” label, the font wasn’t large enough or of an adequately different colour to make them stand out (IMC Toys UK Ltd t/a Cry Babies, 15 June 2022IMC Toys UK Ltd t/a VIP Pets, 15 June 2022).


  • Peer pressure and credulity

Marketer’s shouldn’t make a direct appeal to children to buy products, or to persuade their parents or other adults to buy for them. Similarly, you shouldn’t encourage children to make a nuisance of themselves – sometimes known as “pester power”.


Advertisers can present products to children in a positive light, but they should avoid suggesting that a child might be unpopular, disloyal, or lacking in courage by not owning or buying the featured product.


Ads targeting children must not exploit their credulity, loyalty, vulnerability, or lack of experience. This means they should 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.


  • Do no harm

Finally, ads directed at children shouldn’t depict anything or contain any messages that could result in a child’s physical, mental, or moral harm.   One ad breached the rules by showing children eating food by hanging upside down, which the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) considered was an unsafe practice with a high risk of choking if children copied it (Mondelez UK Ltd, 19 January 2022).


Ads also shouldn’t encourage children to take – or show them taking – risks or to copy unsafe or possibly socially undesirable practices.


Source: CAP


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