Protect Your Advertisements – Wear a Helmet

Arent Fox
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Arent Fox

The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) recently brought an action against the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board (MilkPEP) over concerns with MilkPEP’s television commercial depicting individuals skateboarding without the appropriate safety gear.
 

Ultimately, despite measures implemented to mitigate risk, CARU concluded that the MilkPEP commercial violated CARU’s Self-Regulatory Program for Children’s Advertising (the “Guidelines”).

The CARU Guidelines

CARU requires advertisers to take caution to demonstrate safe practices for children. In relevant part, the Guidelines state that advertisers “should take into account that children…may imitate product demonstrations or other activities depicted in advertisements,” and that advertisements “should not portray adults or children in unsafe situations or in acts harmful to themselves or others.” In other words, “[w]hen certain activities (such as skateboarding) are shown, proper precautions and safety equipment should be depicted,” in accordance with US Consumer Product Safety Commission guidance.

The MilkPEP Commercial

While the primary actor in MilkPEP’s commercial wore appropriate safety gear, others on screen did not. The featured professional skateboarder, Bryce Wettstein, performed tricks in a skatepark while wearing a helmet and other safety gear. Additionally, text stating “Professional Athletes. Do Not Attempt. Wear a Helmet” was superimposed on the bottom left-hand corner of the screen throughout the commercial (the “video super”). Nonetheless, CARU found this commercial to be in violation of the CARU guidelines because several unidentified skateboarders featured in the background of the commercial were not wearing helmets or other safety gear, and could therefore “give children the impression that safety gear was not necessary.”

CARU stated that the use of video supers in television commercials directed at children is not an effective means of communicating material facts because they are not prominent and young viewers often cannot read well enough to understand them. Thus, in video advertisements featuring activities “where safety precautions are necessary, audio or written disclosure cannot replace the visual depiction of safety requirement[s].”

As a result, MilkPEP pulled its ads from the children’s networks, Nick Junior and Universal Kids, and raised the age of its target audience to children 12 years and older on the remaining networks, and to 13 years and older for its online ads; thereby rendering these requirements inapplicable as the CARU guidelines apply to children under 12 years old and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) applies to those under 13 years old.

Takeaways

CARU is actively monitoring advertisements targeted at children to ensure compliance with the applicable regulations and guidance. As such, advertisers targeting children should consider the following when creating and publishing advertisements:

  • Safety. Given that children may imitate activities, it is important to avoid displaying risky behavior to children. Advertisers should review the US Consumer Product Safety Commission guidance in determining the appropriate safety equipment or precautions to be featured in compliant advertisements.
  • Clear Disclosures. Given that children are not as accustomed to or prepared to understand text and audio disclosures, these may be insufficient to counteract images displayed on screen.
  • Big Picture. All aspects of an advertisement must be considered, including background actors and/or other less central elements of the advertisement.

Review the Rules. Review advertisements targeted at children to ensure they are in compliance with applicable CARU and COPPA guidelines.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Arent Fox | Attorney Advertising

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