Children: General advertising guidance

Jul 17th '18

For the purpose of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code, children are defined as those under 16 years old (Section 5, Children, Definition). However, the way in which children perceive and react to marketing communications is influenced by their age, experience and the context in which the message is delivered – marketing communications that are acceptable for young teenagers will not necessarily be acceptable for younger children, therefore marketers should never assume that ‘children’ are a homogenous group.


The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) came into force in May 2008 to help protect consumers, including children, from unfair trading practices. The CAP Code reflects the CPRs, for example in some of the general rules and those specifically dealing with children. The rules are designed to protect children from being misled, exploited or harmed and broadly speaking cover:


  1. Direct exhortation to purchase;
  • marketers should not make a direct appeal to children to buy advertised products or persuade their parent or other adult to buy for them (Rule 5.4.2).


  1. Safety and mental, moral or physical harm (see Children: Sexual Imagery and Fear and Distress);
  • children must not be encouraged to take, or be shown taking, risks (for example, behaving dangerously, ignoring the Highway Code or talking to strangers (see Children: Safety and Safety: General))
  • children must not be encouraged to copy unsafe or possibly socially undesirable practices. The ASA receives many complaints that children could copy irreverent or bad behaviour and language. Many are rejected (such as the depiction of rude gestures or mild swearing) but the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) will uphold complaints if it believes the end result of emulation would harm children (see Children: Safety).
  • marketers should be careful when using potentially distressing or offensive images, for example, depicting violence or sexual imagery in untargeted, or badly targeted, media.


  1. Credulity and loyalty (See Children: Credulity and Children: Money) :
  • marketers should not belittle children or undermine them merely because they do not have the advertised product;
  • marketers should not encourage children to make a nuisance of themselves and should not undermine parental authority;
  • marketers must not exaggerate what is attainable by an ordinary child using the marketed product.


  1. Understanding what is on offer (See Children: Credulity):
  • the language and syntax used to communicate the main characteristics of an offer or product (for example, size or performance) should be suitable for the target audience. Complex terms and conditions in sales promotions or hard-to-understand charges are likely to be unacceptable;
  • marketers should be clear about commitments;
  • a clear statement if adult permission is necessary.


  1. Promotional marketing (See Children: Promotional marketing):
  • promoters must not exploit children’s susceptibilities to charitable appeals. Care should be taken when, for example, raising money for a donkey sanctuary or other animal charities;
  • promotions that offer prizes that might cause conflict must make clear that adult permission is required;
  • promotions must not exaggerate the value of prizes or the chances of winning them.


Marketers are no doubt aware that most children use the internet to (among other things) play games and visit social networking sites – in the UK, many children are spending more and more time online. Although the marketing potential is huge, so is the possibility to get it wrong. Children are unlikely to complain to the ASA about advertisements and promotional marketing that they see on the internet, but marketers nevertheless have a responsibility to comply with the CAP Code in media covered by it. Children should, for example, be able to immediately identify marketing messages, including paid advertorials and videos (Rule 2.1 – see Recognising Marketing Communications). Marketers should also take care when targeting ads to children on social media – see Children: Targeting.


Marketers wishing to advertise HFSS (high in fat, salt or sugar) bards should be aware of the advertising restrictions. For more information, see Children: Food.


Those wishing to advertise alcohol, e-cigarettes, and gambling websites 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. See Betting and Gaming: Appeal to Children.


Source: CAP


Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s Advice Online entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.


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