The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (“CARU”), a part of a part of the Better Business Bureau National Programs (“BBBNP”), released its revised Children’s Advertising Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) earlier this month. The Guidelines, which contain some notable changes, will go into effect in January 2022.
The Guidelines, which previously only covered advertisements addressed to children age 12 and under, now will cover children ages 13 and under. This change is intended to align with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) Rule and promote uniformity in children’s advertising. CARU also separated its Advertising and Privacy guidance documents.
Recognizing that advertising to children is gaining popularity on websites and apps, CARU adopted guidance for in-app and in-game advertising and purchases. CARU advises advertisers to “not use unfair, deceptive, or other manipulative tactics” aimed at pressuring children to view ads or make purchases or to unknowingly engage with advertising. CARU emphasized the need for transparency and will recommend that exit mechanisms from in-app or in-game advertisements be clearly labeled and easy to find.
CARU also updated its guidance on influencer marketing to children to reflect this growing trend. The Guidelines make clear that any marketing featuring influencers should include obvious disclosures of their material connections to the brands they’re endorsing – these disclosures must explain, in language that children can understand, that the influencer received compensation or is receiving free product in exchange for the promotion. CARU advises that a best practice is to make both audio and visual disclosures, and repeat disclosures in video content to ensure that children hear and understand the message. The Guidelines also advise that advertisers should be especially transparent when advertising to children in a manner where it may be difficult for a child to distinguish between advertising and non-advertising content (e.g., “native advertising”).
Finally, the new Guidelines contain a provision directing advertisers to “promote positive change by reflecting the diversity of humanity and providing an inclusive space where all can feel valued and respected.” CARU extends this provision to “all races, religions, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, and physical and cognitive abilities.” The new Guidelines go a step further and require advertisers not to use any advertising that portrays or encourages negative social stereotyping, prejudice or discrimination.
The past few years have brought big changes to the BBB National Programs – from its restructuring in 2019, to the expansion of its privacy portfolio, to the recent addition of key senior enforcers from the Federal Trade Commission at BBBNP, CARU and the NAD, and now, the shoring up of guidelines for children’s advertising. These changes are likely to result in enhanced scrutiny of advertising and enhanced enforcement activity by the various programs under BBBNP’s umbrella. In the case of children’s advertising, advertisers should carefully review their marketing plans and strategies to ensure compliance with the existing and new CARU Guidelines.