Last summer, BBB National Programs' Children's Advertising Review Unit released its revised Self-Regulatory Guidelines for Children's Advertising (the "CARU Guidelines").  The new CARU Guidelines took effect on January 1, 2022.  Here’s what you need to know.

1. What are the CARU Guidelines?

The CARU Guidelines set standards to ensure that advertising directed to kids (kidvertising, if you will) is not deceptive, unfair, or inappropriate for a young audience. CARU monitors kid-directed media to ensure compliance with the guidelines and makes referrals for enforcement, as necessary, to the FTC or state attorneys general.  So if you are directing any advertising to children, or if your ads are running in or near content for children, you should pay attention to the CARU Guidelines.

2. What do the CARU Guidelines say?

At a high level, the CARU Guidelines say that advertising should be truthful and not misleading, clearly represent itself as advertising, and not depict or promote inappropriate or unsafe behavior. These are core advertising principles regardless of audience; the nuance in CARU is that what is clear to (or safe and appropriate for) an adult may not be clear to (or safe or appropriate for) a child. The CARU Guidelines go into detail about what may be considered misleading to children, like animations that may create performance expectations (depicting a doll that can talk or a car that can fly, for instance) and specify that disclaimer language should take into account the limited vocabularies of children and level of language skills.

3. What’s new in the revised CARU Guidelines?

To start, CARU tweaked the scope of the CARU Guidelines; they now apply to children under the age of 13 across all child-directed content, no matter the platform. The previous guidelines applied primarily to children under the age of 12, and were limited to national advertising (pre-digital, so that covered TV, print, radio, etc.). The shift from age 12 to age 13 makes CARU consistent with other child-directed guidance, like the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and the widening of platform scope is in response to the new-ish digital landscape of kids consuming media online. The revised CARU Guidelines also clearly spell out the factors that determine when an ad is “primarily directed to” children.  

While the core principles have not changed, the revised CARU Guidelines expand into some interesting new territory.

A. In-app and in-game advertising

Given that devices like tablets and phones are now extremely accessible to kids, CARU has incorporated guidance about in-app and in-game advertising. Dark patterns (defined by as “tricks used in websites and apps that make you do things that you didn't mean to, like buying or signing up for something”) are especially problematic for kids. As such, advertisers and developers should not deceive or manipulate kids into viewing an ad or making a purchase, and methods to exit an ad should be clear and conspicuous. Ads, apps, and games must also make it clear that purchases involve real money.

B. Diversity and inclusion

CARU is taking a stand against stereotyping and discrimination in advertising by incorporating some D&I language into their list of what is considered inappropriate advertising, stating “Advertising should not portray or encourage negative social stereotyping, prejudice, or discrimination.” The implications of this for gendered advertising is particularly interesting. Children have traditionally been presented with binary options -- toys that are for boys, and toys that are for girls. According to CARU Senior Attorney Jim Davis, CARU is not trying to police gender norms, but does take issue with “the message that there are certain traits inextricably tied to gender that will determine who we become as adults” -- advertising that creates the impression that girls must become beauty queens, for example, or that boys need to be tough, gun-toting soldiers. CARU provided some really interesting mock case studies in a recent presentation they did, so we will do a separate blog post diving into this in more depth.

C. Influencer marketing

The revised CARU Guidelines incorporate FTC guidance on endorsements and influencer marketing, including the requirement that material connections be clearly and conspicuously disclosed. CARU notes that children may lack the sophistication to assess the information given to them and have a lower capacity for recognizing something as advertising. This can be especially problematic in the context of influencer marketing: a child may not understand that the person they are watching unbox a toy was, in fact, paid by the toy maker. This means that advertisers must include disclosures in child-friendly language that a child will see and/or hear. If the advertising appears in a video, having a spoken disclosure as well as a written one makes it more likely a child will get it. If the video is longer than a few minutes, repeating the disclosure a few times makes it more likely that a child will catch it given their limited attention spans.

You can read the updated guidelines here