It might sound crazy to some and make perfect sense to others, but sometimes marketing to kids is illegal. What we mean by this is that there are more rules and regulations that apply when you’re marketing products to children or including children in your target audience.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the organization in charge of these laws. Their purpose is to create and enforce safeguards that protect the American consumer against unfair, deceptive, fraudulent, and otherwise harmful practices in the marketplace. Marketing and advertising fall under this category more often than not.
If you’re a business–whether you’re a restaurant, toy shop, general store, or law firm–and your target audience includes minors under 18 years old, there are some child advertising laws that you need to pay attention to.
WHEN IS IT ILLEGAL TO MARKET TO CHILDREN?
Did you know that sometimes, marketing to children can get you in legal hot water? There are some products and services you can’t advertise to children, certain tactics you cannot use to market products or services that can be marketed to children, and certain restrictions and special opt-ins that must be met to market to children.
With this in mind, let’s learn a little about child advertising laws and the necessary guidelines to follow when marketing to children.
CHILD ADVERTISING LAWS AND GUIDELINES
Here’s an overview of child advertising laws in the US, along with the guidelines laid out by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU).
The CARU (of the Council of Better Business Bureaus) looks after the children’s section of the advertising industry’s self-regulatory system.
CARU regularly publishes “Self-Regulatory Guidelines for Children’s Advertising,” which apply to national advertising that’s directed towards kids under 12 years of age. It covers all mediums with the objective of ensuring that advertising for children is not deceptive, inappropriate, or unfair.
The guidelines recognize that children are especially impressionable and vulnerable. Accordingly, CARU considers the experience and maturity of children (in the intended audience) to determine whether or not an advertisement is deceptive. It also takes into account any limits to their cognitive prowess and their ability to rationally analyze the advertisement’s claims.
The CARU guidelines also address the practices of collecting online data and privacy policies that target kids below 13 years of age. This is in keeping with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act or COPPA.
CARU also monitors TV commercials and examines print, radio, and online advertisements. If any advertising is found to be false, incorrect, or inconsistent with the CARU guidelines, it seeks change with the help of the advertisers.
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
COPPA is a federal law that forbids deceptive or unfair acts or practices related to the collection, use, and disclosure of information regarding children on the internet.
Any FTC rule implementing COPPA forces websites to get verifiable parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing their children’s personal information online. COPPA also requires websites and online platforms to publish their privacy policies and notify parents about their data gathering and distribution practices.
The rule is applicable to anyone who manages commercial websites and online services that are aimed at children under 13. It also applies to general audience websites that need to mention that they’re collecting personal information from a child.
FTC ADVERTISING REGULATIONS
Now that you know what child advertising laws in the U.S. are about, let’s take a look at important FTC advertising regulations.
The FTC is focused on health or safety advertisements, as well as advertisements that make claims which may be hard for even an adult consumer to evaluate.
The FTC also scrutinizes national advertising, while referring local matters to local agencies. When deciding on which cases to pursue, it considers the extent of potential injury either to consumers’ health and safety or from the monetary perspective.
Manufacturers and retailers can avoid enforcement actions by the FTC by ensuring that they advertise children’s products in compliance with the principles set by the FTC authorities.
LIMITED FOOD MARKETING
Because of the worldwide issue of childhood obesity, many countries, including the U.S., restrict the advertising of unhealthy, sugary, or fatty foods to children. If you’re a food provider like a market store or a restaurant, you might worry if your advertising counts as marketing to children. This only applies when you market directly to children, such as advertising a children’s menu or children’s toys or running ads on channels and avenues meant for children.
Because this can get tricky, it’s sometimes best to avoid marketing to children directly. You can market to family and adults food items that children can have but aren’t for them specifically. You can also market unhealthy food items on general channels that aren’t necessarily for children but don’t block them as it isn’t considered marketing to children.
It shouldn’t be surprising that you can’t advertise alcohol, tobacco, nudity, violence, and many other sensitive subjects to children. What you may not know is that it is your responsibility to age-restrict your content on public platforms like YouTube and your website.
To protect yourself against unwanted children looking at your restricted products or services, you need a legal-binding agreement that visitors to your site have to check. If they check it, assuring you that they’re 18 years or older, the child’s parents are responsible for not keeping them from lying to you. You have legally documented proof that you were deceived into allowing a child to view your marketing content and potentially taking their personal information.
Most online forums like YouTube have their age restriction settings in place that are easy to use, so you don’t have to make them yourself.
In the United States, a minor cannot legally sign a binding contract. For this reason, it’s illegal to advertise to them anything that would necessitate this. An example would be a phone company marketing to kids on a children’s network like Disney Channel.
In the case of online marketing, where anyone can lie about their age and identity, the solution is similar to the age restriction setting on the website. When someone fills in their information for an online contract, they have to say they are 18 years or older, or their parents have to sign for them. In both cases, the parents become responsible for the contract, rather than the child.
LIMITED DATA COLLECTION
Data is incredibly important to marketing because it informs businesses as to who their target audience should be and what tactics to use. What data you can collect on people under 18 is not the same for those over 18 because of the COPPA regulations.
These state that no corporation may collect personal data on anyone under the age of 13 in the United States. What is considered personal data to FTC is a minor’s:
- “Full name;
- Home or other physical address, including street name and city or town;
- Online contact information like an email address or other identifier that permits someone to contact a person directly — for example, an IM identifier, VoIP identifier, or video chat identifier;
- Screen name or user name where it functions as online contact information;
- Telephone number;
- Social Security number;
- A persistent identifier that can be used to recognize a user over time and across different sites, including a cookie number, an IP address, a processor or device serial number, or a unique device identifier;
- A photo, video, or audio file containing a child’s image or voice;
- Geolocation information sufficient to identify a street name and city or town; or
- Other information about the child or parent that is collected from the child and is combined with one of these identifiers.”
Once children turn 16, personal information changes only to include first name, last name, state, age, addresses, birthdates, and social security numbers. The ages between 13 and 16 aren’t entirely clear, so the safest practice is to treat children in that age range as if they were 13 or younger.
DON’T GET FINED FOR YOUR ONLINE MARKETING
The punishment for breaking these laws can lead to heavy fines being imposed on your company. Whether you’re big or small, receiving hefty fines can really damage your long-term success. You have fewer resources in the bank, and your reputation has likely taken a hit. The worst thing is that you can easily make a mistake that gets you in trouble as you try to run your business and its marketing.
When you work with a marketing firm, you don’t have to split your attention between the work you want to do and the work that needs to be done. ENX2 Marketing can do it for you. It’s a part of our everyday business to stay on top of laws and regulations to make sure we and our clients aren’t getting dinged by hefty fines. For a marketing agency that can make sure you’re doing everything you’re supposed to, contact ENX2 Marketing.