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October 15th, 2004
Advertising to Children?
The Children’s Advertising Review Unit ("CARU") of the Council of Better Business Bureaus recently announced that Nakajima USA Inc., marketers of the Pirates of the Caribbean Water Slide, said it would modify a television commercial promoting the slide, before airing it again, in order to emphasize that children should use the product under adult supervision. Nakajima took this step after an inquiry by CARU, which is the nation’s leading self-regulatory organization for children’s advertising.
Founded in 1974 to promote responsible marketing to children, CARU monitors compliance with its own "Self-Regulatory Guidelines for Children’s Advertising," and works, very successfully, with advertisers to encourage voluntary compliance. The Guidelines generally apply to advertising in all media that is directed to children under age twelve (except for certain safety and online privacy issues).
- The Guidelines are based on seven general principles, which are roughly summarized below:
- Advertisers should consider "the level of knowledge, sophistication and maturity of the audience to which their message is primarily directed."
- Advertisers should not "exploit unfairly the imaginative quality of children." Advertisers should not create unreasonable expectations of product performance.
- Products and advertising which are not appropriate for children should not be promoted directly to them.
- Advertising should be truthful and accurate, and in language that is understandable to children, recognizing that they can learn things from advertising which can affect their health and well-being.
- Advertising should address, wherever possible, "positive and beneficial social behavior, such as friendship, kindness, honesty, justice, generosity and respect for others."
- Advertisers should "incorporate minority and other groups in advertisements in order to present positive and pro-social roles and role models wherever possible," and should avoid "social stereotyping and appeals to prejudice."
- Advertising should contribute positively to the parent-child relationship. To help people apply these principles, the Guidelines include detailed rules on many specific advertising issues, such as product claims, sales pressure, disclosures, comparative advertising, endorsements, promotions, sweepstakes, safety, Internet advertising, and online privacy.
Safe for Kids?
When dealing with safety, the Guidelines require, for example, that advertising show adult supervision when a product could involve a safety risk, that advertising not show children in unsafe situations, and that advertising not encourage dangerous or inappropriate use of a product. Because it believed that these water slides can be dangerous for children and that adult supervision was not clearly depicted, CARU wanted changes to Nakajima’s water slide commercial, in order to clarify that adult supervision is needed.
Misleading to Kids?
The Guidelines also require, for example, that advertising not mislead kids about the benefits of using a product, that advertising not show inappropriate behavior, and that advertising clearly explain what is not included with a purchase. CARU recently recommended that the International Dairy Foods Association, for example, stop airing a television commercial during children’s programming on the grounds that it featured inappropriate and antisocial behavior. In the spot, a teenager scratches the bar code off a bottle of chocolate milk in a convenience store, so that when he tries to buy the item, the cashier has to repeatedly try to scan the bottle for the price (unwittingly shaking, for the kid, the bottle of milk, which he then drinks). The spot ends with, "Shake Stuff Up. Got Chocolate Milk?" Noting that the Guidelines are intended to "take into account the uniquely impressionable and vulnerable child audience," CARU took the position that because the advertising depicted "questionable behavior" in an everyday scene, that is easily duplicated by average kids, the advertising should not be shown during children’s programming.
The Guidelines do not only cover truth in advertising, but focus on many subjective issues, which you may not think to consider. If you are planning to advertise to children, then, it is important to take the Guidelines into account before you produce, so that CARU does not seek changes later on.
This article first appeared in the October 2004 issue of SHOOT magazine. It presents a general discussion of legal issues, but is not legal advice, and may not be applicable in all situations. Consult your attorney for legal advice
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