Who: Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 26 May 2017
Law stated as at: 27 June 2017
As we reported back in February, CAP and BCAP launched a public consultation regarding proposed new rules for the CAP and BCAP Codes aimed at prohibiting the sexual portrayal or sexual representation of under-18s (or those who seem to be under 18) in advertising. As well as wanting to protect young models who feature in advertising campaigns, the consultation also sought to address general concerns regarding the potential for adults to view under-18s as sexual beings. In recent years there has also been much public and media debate as to whether the sexual presentation of young people in advertising also pressures under-18s to view themselves in as sexual beings too young.
The CAP and BCAP Codes require advertisers to ensure their ads are not irresponsible or harmful, do not offend or harm and are prepared with a sense of responsibility. More specifically, the BCAP Code currently prohibits ads from portraying or representing someone under 16 in a sexual way but the CAP Code has no equivalent express rule. Whilst the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has previously demonstrated through its rulings that portraying 16 and 17 year olds in a sexualised way in advertising is unacceptable, there was nothing that explicitly prohibited this under the CAP Code and that was the reason behind the consultation to amend the rules in this area.
Outcome of the public consultation
Now that the consultation has closed and CAP and BCAP have assessed the responses they received, they have confirmed that they will be introducing stricter rules prohibiting the sexual portrayal or sexual representation of under-18s, and those who appear to be under 18, in advertising. They feel that addressing these issues through the use of new express rules in the CAP and BCAP codes is necessary and proportionate to strengthen the existing rules to protect the welfare of under-18s. In devising the rules, CAP and BCAP say that they have taken into account “…links between premature sexualisation and harm, alongside national and international measures prohibiting certain types of sexual depiction of under-18s“.
The new rules being introduced will bring the CAP Code into line with the BCAP Code in terms of having an express rule dealing with the portrayal of someone under 16 in a sexual way, and the new rules will then also go even further by protecting all those who are under-18 rather than under-16 in both the CAP and BCAP Codes.
The new rules
The new rules to be introduced are as follows:
- CAP Code: Rule 4.6 – “Marketing communications must not portray or represent anyone who is, or seems to be, under 18 in a sexual way. However, this rule does not apply to marketing communications whose principal function is to promote the welfare of, or to prevent harm to, under-18s, provided any sexual portrayal or representation is not excessive”.
- BCAP Code: Rule 4.4 to replace existing rule 5.5 – “Advertisements must not portray or represent anyone who is, or seems to be, under 18 in a sexual way. However, this rule does not apply to advertisements whose principal function is to promote the welfare of, or to prevent harm to, under-18s, provided any sexual portrayal or representation is not excessive”.
Why this matters:
Any sexualised depiction of under-18s will now be expressly prohibited, unless the principal function of the ad is to promote the welfare of under-18s or to prevent harm. CAP gives the example of ads that have the aim of promoting safe sex amongst young adults to illustrate the type of ads that will benefit from an exception to this new rule.
The new rules will come into effect from 2 January 2018 and so brands and agencies who have previously used young models, or young-looking models, which may have previously been seen as being close to the line in terms of potential sexual imagery (especially in ads for clothing brands), should now review their approach. Charities and other bodies with an interest in this space will now find it easier to point to express CAP and BCAP Code rule breaches to complain about such advertising to the ASA.