In three recent decisions, the Children's Advertising Review Unit emphasized the importance of adequate disclosure when advertising to (or collecting information from) children. These recent cases deal with COPPA violations, misleading product claims, and safety disclaimers -- and also purple poop.

TickTalk Tech, LLC was found to be in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The company makes a smart watch phone and app that allow parents to monitor and communicate with their kids. While it is clear that the product’s features involve the collection of personal information from children (since the product allows parents to track their kids and allows kids to share photos and texts), the product’s website failed to clearly and conspicuously describe what personal information was being collected from children and how that information was being used and shared. The fact that the website’s privacy policy and terms of service included language that CARU called “inconsistent,” “contradictory,” and “confusing” did not help. The company agreed to revise its website and its app to provide parents with clear, direct notice of what personal information it can passively and actively collect from children and how that personal information can be used and disclosed, and it agreed to clean up its website policies and make its privacy policy easier to find.

CARU found that advertising run by Jazwares LLC was likely to mislead children about product contents, performance, and assembly. The packaging and advertising for Jazwares’ Micro Machines Corvette and World of Micro Machines Playsets showed multiple cars and playsets without making clear that only one car and one playset was included. CARU noted that, while it is not uncommon in children’s advertising to show multiple sets or items within a line of toys that are sold separately, advertisers are required to clearly disclose what products come with each initial purchase and which must be purchased separately. The Micro Machines ads did contain disclosures, but CARU did not find them to be effective because the disclosures were spoken too quickly to be understood and came at the end of the ad after an impression may have already been made. The advertising also depicted toy cars flying through the air, which CARU determined created the overall impression that the cars were capable of speeds sufficient to launch a car off of its track. Lastly, CARU found that the playsets took up to 30 minutes to assemble and deemed the “Adult assembly required” language on the packaging too small and inconspicuous for adequate disclosure.

And finally, Moose Toys was asked to modify advertising which CARU said may encourage kids to eat blue sand in order to make magic purple poops. The company makes the “Little Live Pets Gotta Go Turdle” (yes, that’s how it’s spelled), an electronic toy turtle that sings, dances, and poops. The ads show kids feeding the turtle blue sand and then watching the turtle produce purple poop. CARU determined that the ad could reasonably convey to young children that the blue sand is actually edible, and, in CARU’s words, “young viewers may want to experiment with the turdle food to try to make purple poops of their own.” Given that ingesting the sand can cause stomach upset and poses a risk of choking and/or gastrointestinal obstruction, CARU noted that the ads should not only state in kid-friendly language that the blue sand is not edible, but that the ads should also depict adult supervision given the safety concerns.

Takeaways from these recent cases:

  1. Disclosures should be made both visually and audibly. The Guidelines say “disclosures made in both audio and video are more likely to be noticed by Children and therefore most likely to be effective”; CARU reiterated this point in its evaluations of the Jazwares and Moose Toys ads.
  2. Disclosures do not cure false claims. Disclosures can qualify or limit claims to avoid a misleading impression, but disclosures cannot cure false claims. In Jazwares, the ad with the flying cars included the super “CGI Animation. SFX added. VFX added,” which CARU said did not remedy the deceptive performance claims. Not only must disclosures be clear and conspicuous, but they cannot contradict anything portrayed in the advertising. 
  3. Don’t forget the role of parents. If a product requires that an adult put something together or if the product could be unsafe without adult supervision, that should be clearly disclosed in the ad. If the personal information of children under the age of 13 is being collected, parents must be provided with clear, complete and prominent notice of the information collection and use practices, and parents must provide verifiable consent prior to such information being collected or used.