This summer, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) issued new guidelines that, for the first time, cover in-app advertising, influencer marketing, and discrimination. CARU is an independent self-regulatory agency administered by the BBB National Programs that promotes responsible child-directed advertising.

On July 29, CARU issued the revised version of its Advertising Guidelines, which are widely recognized industry standards that ensure advertising directed towards children is not deceptive, unfair, or inappropriate for its intended audience, while taking into account the limited knowledge, experience, sophistication and maturity of ordinary children. Advertisers, according to the revised guidelines, must pay special attention to recognize that children have a limited capacity to evaluate the credibility of information, may not understand the persuasive intent of advertising, and may not even understand that they are being subject to advertising at all.

With this in mind, CARU monitors advertisements found across all forms of media for compliance with its guidelines. 

Traditionally, CARU’s review extended to broadcast and cable TV, radio, children’s magazines, comic books, the Internet and mobile services. The revised guidelines, which will go into effect on January 1, 2022, now address modern digital and immersive forms of child-focused interactive media with heightened specificity. In particular, the revised guidelines provide guidance in connection with the use of video, influencer marketing, mobile apps, in-game advertising, and in-game purchase options.

Although CARU seeks change through voluntary cooperation from advertisers, it also actively investigates cases of non-compliance and refers enforcement actions to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or state Attorneys General, if and when appropriate. Accordingly, advertisers should be aware that the revised guidelines:

  •  Apply to national advertising that is primarily directed towards children under the age of 13 (rather than 12) in any medium. This now aligns with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, the federal law that provides protections against the online collection of personal information from children under the age of 13;
  • Make clear that advertising that portrays or encourages negative social stereotyping, prejudice, or discrimination violates CARU’s standards;
  • Require disclosures and/or contextual clues to help children distinguish between advertising and non-advertising content;
  • Require that disclosures take into account children’s limited vocabularies and use simple, clear words, ideally with both audio and video components, to be most effective;
  • Recognize that the mere appearance of a celebrity, influencer or authority figure in an advertisement can significantly alter a child’s perception, so should proceed clearly, with caution and in accordance with updated FTC guidance on endorsements and influencer marketing; and
  • Prohibit unfair, deceptive, or manipulative tactics in apps and online games, including deceptive door openers or the use of social pressure to mislead or cause children to unknowingly or inadvertently engage in ad viewing or make in-app/game purchases.  In addition, all advertisements, apps, or games that allow children to make purchases must make it clear that the purchase involves real currency.

Moving forward, advertisers who market to children should, as CARU recommends, capitalize on the potential to serve an informational role and influence positive personal qualities and behaviors in children by keeping the revised guidelines top of mind.

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