A commercial for Wish Me Puppy, a stuffie sold by Jay at Play, was reviewed by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (“CARU”) through its routine monitoring of advertising directed to children. The commercial showed several scenarios of children making a wish, kissing or blowing on the bow on the plush toy, and then getting their wishes fulfilled. CARU was concerned that young children viewing the commercial would believe that if they acquired the toy, it would make their wishes come true too.
The advertiser argued that children’s wishes are common in our culture via books, television, and film and that "if all such things must be taken literally for the purpose of compliance with CARU’s Guidelines, it serves only to take the fun and imagination out of the toy industry and one might just as well ban all references to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or any number of common and cherished childhood memories and traditions."
Although CARU considered, it was not persuaded by the argument that hyperbole, fantasy and puffery are permitted in advertising directed to children. CARU noted that its Guidelines are "founded on the premise that children are not as sophisticated as adults" and that while "most adults may recognize an unrealistic promise or assertion, children may not always understand the difference between truth and hyperbole." Thus, CARU determined, "children, because of their lesser-developed cognitive abilities, cannot understand advertising techniques like puffery." Accordingly, CARU recommended that the advertiser modify the commercial to avoid creating the unrealistic impression that the toy can grant wishes.
And for the rest of us? It's important to remember that although the "reasonable person" standard generally applies when considering the takeaway from advertising directed to adults, advertising directed to children (or other vulnerable populations) must be analyzed from the perspective of that population.
In response to CARU’s inquiry, Jay at Play stated that that the use of hyperbole, fantasy, and puffery are permitted in advertising directed to children. CARU disagreed and noted that it has long held that while most adults may recognize an unrealistic promise or assertion, children may not always understand the difference between truth and hyperbole and there cannot understand advertising techniques such as puffery.