With pressure mounting for changes to UK rules for ads to children, Canada’s TV regulators will be applying new guidelines for determining if “Children’s Advertising” or a “Child-directed message” can be broadcast.
Who: Advertising Standards Canada and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters
When: Late 2005
Our thanks to Wendy Reed of Toronto lawyers Heenan Blaikie (firstname.lastname@example.org) for providing the source material for this report.
Advertising Standards Canada published a revised version of its 2002 "Children's Broadcast Advertising Clearance Bulletin." This explains what will and won't be considered an acceptable children's ad under the Broadcast Code for Advertising for Children published by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters in co-operation with Advertising Standards Canada ("ASC") ("the Children's Code").
Compliance with the Children's Code is a condition of commercial broadcasters' licences and the ASC pre-clears all children's advertising before broadcast.
The revised bulletin is now named the Children's Broadcast Advertising Clearance Guide ("Guide").
First of all the Guide explains when advertising will be regarded as either children's advertising or a child directed message and thus governed by the Children's Code.
"Children's advertising" is defined as a paid commercial message carried in or immediately adjacent to a children's programme, whilst a "child-directed message" is a commercial message for a product
(i) of which children are the only users, or form a substantial part of the market as users, and
(ii) that is presented in a manner directed primarily to children.
"Children" for the purposes of the Children's Code are kids under the age of 12 (but remember in Québec children are regarded for these purposes as kids under the age of 13).
Clause 5 prohibits the use of imperative language that urges a child to buy the product. For example it is not acceptable to say "own the video today" but one could say "on video today."
Similarly, direct selling techniques are prohibited. For example it is not acceptable to say "to buy Holly Doll, call this phone number or call this website." However it will be acceptable to state "for information on Holly Doll, call this phone number or visit this website."
By the same token it is not acceptable to say "Puppies on ice – for information, call 1-800-ticket-guys". This is because, according to the Guide, the phone numbers identify this as a ticket purveyor and enables purchases. It is acceptable however to say "Puppies on ice-for information call ticket guys" because the phone number is not included in the message.
Where an ad promotes a premium or contest, the product must receive at least equal emphasis, in other words appearing on screen for a similar amount of time.
Promotions by characters and personal endorsements
Puppets, persons or characters well-known to children are only allowed "to set the theme or mood" of an ad.
This means that they cannot hold, consume, mention or endorse the product being advertised.
There is an exception to the rule prohibiting endorsement by characters if the character was created by the advertiser to sell the product and not for some other, larger entertainment value.
Price and purchase terms
The child should be able to understand what is and what is not included with the product seen on TV. This means mentioning that batteries are required, both in the audio and visual. In the case of a computer product, basic requirements must be specified such as "Windows XP required," or "internet connection required."
Also, the cost of the product should not be minimised. Phrases such as "only", "just", "bargain price" or "new low price" are regarded by the Guide as enticing purchase and not permissible.
The full text of the children's code and the Guide are at www.addstandards.com/clearance
Why this matters:
Here in the UK, the topic of advertising to children will not go off the top of the regulatory agenda. Particularly in the context of food products, there continues to be a serious threat of tighter regulation in this area. The EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive continues this theme by outlawing across Europe as an "aggressive commercial practice" any direct exhortation" to children to buy the advertised product. Clearly, Canada's regulators are taking the issue seriously and to the extent that any of this new Guide's rules are not already being applied to UK TV advertising it has to be only a matter of time before they are.