NOG 5. Children

Children must be protected from advertisements that could cause physical, mental or moral harm.

The context in which an ad is likely to be broadcast and the likely age of the audience must be taken into account to avoid unsuitable scheduling. Advertisements that are suitable for older children and young persons but could distress younger children must be sensitively scheduled or placed. This section should therefore be read in conjunction with Section 32: Scheduling. Care must be taken when scheduling advertisements that could frighten or distress children or could otherwise be unsuitable for them: those advertisements should not be scheduled or placed in or around children’s programmes or in or around programmes likely to be seen by significant numbers of children. Care must also be taken when featuring children in advertisements.

Children are avid viewers of television commercials as well as programmes. They lack adults’ knowledge, experience and maturity of judgement and so special care is needed to ensure that advertisements do not lead them into harm, take advantage of their natural credulity, lack of experience or sense of loyalty, or encourage them to copy bad examples.

A child is someone under 16.

“Children’s products and services” are products or services of more or less exclusive interest to children.

“Products and services of interest to children” are products or services that are likely to appeal to children but are not of exclusive interest to them.

5.1 Advertisements that are suitable for older children but could distress younger children must be sensitively scheduled (see Section 32: Scheduling).

5.2 Advertisements must not condone, encourage or unreasonably feature behaviour that could be dangerous for children to emulate. Advertisements must not implicitly or explicitly discredit established safety guidelines. Advertisements must not condone, encourage or feature children going off alone or with strangers. This rule is not intended to prevent advertisements that inform children about dangers or risks associated with potentially harmful behaviour.

Activities such as breakdancing, especially involving head spins, skateboard or BMX tricks may well attract a scheduling restriction to reduce the risk of emulation. We normally expect children to wear helmets whilst skateboarding, cycling or enjoying other similar activities, but not necessarily knee or elbow pads. When considering appropriate restrictions, Clearcast will consider how easy to emulate any activity and its potential for harm. Emulation that might cause nuisance is likely to attract a lesser restriction than one that might cause injury or danger.

In public spaces Clearcast usually expects young children to look as if they have some adult supervision.

The ASA has ruled on this issue. A sample ruling can be found here:

5.3 Advertisements must not condone or encourage practices that are detrimental to children’s health.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of creative treatments that we regularly advise on:

Medicines, disinfectants, household cleaners and other potentially harmful substances or objects should not be shown left lying around, or stored within easy reach of children.

Open lit fires should have a fireguard in place. Care should be taken to avoid portraying hazards such as ornately decorated fireplaces, particularly in advertisements appearing around Christmas.

Because it can result in choking, people should not be shown throwing e.g. peanuts or sweets into the air and catching them in their mouths.

Small children should not appear to be unsupervised, especially in situations of particular danger, e.g. in the bath and they should not be shown to be playing in potentially dangerous places, for example on a staircase.

Babies should not be shown sleeping on their stomachs in cots or prams.

Children should not be shown in lonely or deserted places or anywhere else where they might be at risk e.g. building sites or abandoned buildings.

Children in advertisements should not be shown playing where they would be a danger to themselves, for example by a busy road with traffic in the street.

Particular care is needed where children are shown around water and on the beach Children should not be seen tunnelling in the sand. People on lilos should not normally be shown on open water.

Advertisements should not show children using anything which would be unsafe for them to handle e.g. knives, dangerous tools or appliances, medicines, household detergents etc., matches or outdoor fireworks.

Children should not be shown talking to strangers.

Advertisements should not show children neglecting normal hygiene routines. Advertisements should not encourage poor eating habits such as over-consumption, eating frequently throughout the day or eating or drinking at bedtime.

The ASA has ruled in this area. Links to some sample rulings are below:

5.4 Advertisements must not condone or encourage bullying.

5.5 Advertisements must not portray or represent children in a sexual way.

5.6 Advertisements must not imply that children are likely to be ridiculed, inferior to others, less popular, disloyal or have let someone down if they or their family do not use a product or service.

5.7 Advertisements must not take advantage of children’s inexperience, credulity or sense of loyalty. Advertisements for products or services of interest to children must not be likely to mislead; for example, by exaggerating the features of a product or service in a way that could lead to children having unrealistic expectations of that product or service.

Advertisements should not lead children to expect an advertised product to be bigger or better than it is. If fantasy sequences are included, they should be clearly distinguishable from sequences featuring the advertised product.

If there is a potential to mislead, advertisements should include a clear scale reference to establish the size of a toy.

The preferred way of establishing scale is through use of a child or by showing the advertised product being clearly held in a hand. Scale can, however, be established through use of familiar everyday objects of unambiguous size. Group or range shots of toys may be acceptable if one item establishes the size of the others if it is something familiar such as a football or DVD.

This guidance also applies to promotional items supplied with products of interest to children e.g. breakfast cereals, children’s meal etc.

Demonstrations of toys should accurately reflect what a typical child would experience when using them. For example, showing toys independently if they not capable of doing so is likely to be unacceptable unless the ad also shows exactly how the toys work.

Visual techniques such as extreme close-up tracking shots should not be used to exaggerate the size, nature or capability of toys.

Sound effects from toys must be accurately reproduced.

If they are shown against elaborate backgrounds, it should be clear what is included when toys are bought; clarifying captions may also be used e.g. ‘background set not included. If accessories or individual items are sold separately, e.g. doll's clothing or a range of toy cars, the advertisements should make this clear.

If toys are battery powered or needs other additional items, advertisements should make that clear, e.g. “batteries not included”.

To make sure they perform as advertised, Clearcast may request samples of toys and other items of particular interest to children to be submitted to be tested.

The ASA has adjudicated in this area. Links to rulings are below:

5.8 Child actors may feature in advertisements but care must be taken to ensure that those advertisements neither mislead nor exploit children’s inexperience, credulity or sense of loyalty.

5.9 Advertisements must not include a direct exhortation to children to buy or hire a product or service or to persuade their parents, guardians or other persons to buy or hire a product or service for them.

Advertisements should not directly address children with the suggestion that they themselves should take action. Statements such as “collect the set now”, “buy now” or “collect them all” are likely to be rejected.

The ASA has ruled in this area. Sample rulings can be found here here:

5.10 Advertisements that promote a product or service and invite consumers to buy that product or service via a direct response mechanism must not be targeted directly at children. Direct-response mechanisms are those that allow consumers to place orders without face-to-face contact with the supplier.

5.11 If it includes a price, an ad for a children’s product or service must not use qualifiers such as “only” or “just” to make the price seem less expensive.

5.12 Television only – Advertisements for a toy, game or comparable children’s product must include a statement of its price or, if it is not possible to include a precise price, an approximate price, if that product costs £30 or more.

Toys and games are fairly self-explanatory, but other children’s products will be assessed on a case by case basis. For example, fun, glittery footwear would likely need to abide by this rule, while school uniforms would likely not.

5.13 Advertisements for promotions targeted directly at children:

  1. 5.13.1 must include all significant qualifying conditions.
  2. 5.13.2 must make clear if adult permission is required for children to enter.
    Advertisements for competitions targeted directly at children are acceptable only if the skill required is relevant to the age of likely participants and if the values of the prizes and the chances of winning are not exaggerated.
This permission covers using a website, texting or making a telephone call. Advertisements should include on screen text stating e.g. “ask bill payer’s permission”.

5.14 Promotions that require a purchase to participate and include a direct exhortation to make a purchase must not be targeted directly at children.

Advertisements for promotions directly targeted at children should comply with Section 28: Competitions.