The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code contains the rules about advertising targeted at, and featuring, children. Advertising rules state that ads must contain nothing that is likely to result in their physical, mental or moral harm and goes on to specify harmful situations or practices that must not feature in advertising.
- Children must not be encouraged to enter strange places or talk to strangers
Ad rules state that children must not be encouraged to enter strange places or talk to strangers. An ad for a dating website on social media featured a young girl dressed in school uniform with her shirt unbuttoned and the claim “Older men wanted”. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) considered the image was irresponsible because it alluded to, and seemed to encourage, grooming of young children (Mate1.com Inc, 17 April 2013);
- Children must not be shown in hazardous situations or behaving dangerously
Unless it is to promote safety, Ad rules state that children must not be shown in hazardous situations or behaving dangerously. In 2022, two mobile in-game ads featured animations depicting children coming to physical harm. One ad showed a child standing on a sharp spring which resulted in their foot bleeding, and the second appeared to show a child self-harming by pulling skin from their finger. Both children were later seen crying and bleeding in distressing situations. The ASA ruled that the depictions, which were graphic in nature, were likely to cause serious and widespread offence, and also distress to some viewers. They also considered the ads breached rules because they depicted children in hazardous situations and behaving dangerously, in a context other than promoting safety (Fuero Games Sp zoo, 22 February 2023).
- Children must not be shown using or close to dangerous substances or equipment without adult supervision
Ad rules says children must not be shown using or close to dangerous substances or equipment without adult supervision. A catalogue featuring an ad for a children’s play tent showed two children playing with a Fire Station tent. The picture included a real fire that one child was pretending to extinguish. The ASA considered that emulation of the scene depicted was likely to result in harm and concluded the ad breached the Code (The Win Green Trading Company Ltd, 20 July 2011).
- Children must not be encouraged to copy any practice that might be unsafe for a child
Children must not be encouraged to copy any practice that might be unsafe for a child. In 2021, the ASA investigated an ad that featured two girls hanging upside down from a goal post and discussing eating upside down, with one girl then eating a Dairylea Cheese Triangle. The ASA considered that the scenario carried a high risk of choking, as well as a risk of falling and incurring head or neck injuries, and therefore that it depicted an unsafe and dangerous practice for children to emulate (Mondelez UK Ltd, 19 January 2022).
- Distance selling
Distance selling marketers must take care when using youth media not to promote products that are unsuitable for children. The ASA investigated a complaint in 2017 about an ad for fake tattoo and if this was responsibly targeted. The fake tattoo was made to look like a bite mark, on a woman’s chest and was featured in an in-game app. The ASA considered that the game was likely to have strong appeal to children and therefore children were likely to have seen the ad. Therefore the ASA considered the ad had not been targeted responsibly and therefore breached the Code (wish.com, 1 November 2017).
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 AdviceOnline entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.
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