Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 24 October 2019
Law stated as at: 1 December 2019
On 24 October 2019, CAP issued a call for evidence on children’s recognition of online ads. Submissions were invited until 5 December 2019.
In its call for evidence, CAP highlights that recognising when we are being marketed to is a central principal of the CAP Code, and a requirement of UK consumer protection law. Special considerations apply to marketing targeted at young children and a developing body of evidence demonstrates that children below the age of 12 are often unable to identify ad content and view such content critically. Parts 3.4 and 3.5 of the call document explore this in more depth. CAP also recognises that older children too are less critically aware of online marketing than adults, as the results of Ofcom’s latest media literacy research show, which found that, while a majority of online 12-15 year olds think critically about websites, only a third correctly understood search engine advertising.
It is just two and a half years since CAP last published guidance on this area. That guidance introduced the “enhanced disclosure” requirement for ads directed at under 12s to clarify up-front the identity and commercial intent of the marketer, if not otherwise clear from the context. The guidance recognised the highly immersive nature of online media and the particular vulnerabilities of younger children when engaging with ad content which is significantly integrated into the surrounding content.
When publishing the 2017 guidance, CAP were conscious of avoiding disproportionate consequences with intervention and noted the potential impact of disclosure rules on the viability of children’s content. The latest call for evidence acknowledges that key sectors that advertise to children, principally the toy industry, are aware of the disclosure requirements are have taken steps to comply, a factor contributing to low numbers of complaints about such advertisements. However, online environments are quick to evolve and regulation needs to stay up-to-date.
The call for further evidence highlights CAP’s continued focus on the challenges presented in online environments, as per the ASA’s five-year online strategy, published in November last year, which emphasised the ASA’s willingness to use new technologies and work with industry stakeholders to tackle developments in advertising. This is particularly relevant to the engagement of children with ad content as children’s media use moves increasingly to online platforms.
Why this matters:
The outcome of the subsequent review may impact your marketing practices, whether directly as an advertiser or indirectly as a platform provider.
Although this is not a formal consultation process with specific proposals for regulatory change, CAP will assess the evidence submitted against the present guidance and will report its findings publically, including where the evidence presents a strong case to consider changes to the current guidance. It is likely that the reporting which follows will also explore the cross-over between high fat, sugar and salt foods advertising and influencer marketing with this space.
It is not only advertisers who may be affected by any subsequent updates to the guidance in this area; platforms too should look out for updates which could change their role in promoting compliance by the advertisers who use them.