Reed Smith Client Alerts

After years of debate among members of the children’s advertising industry and staff at the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), a unit of the BBB National Programs, Inc., CARU has published a new set of “Self-Regulatory Guidelines for Children’s Advertising” (the Guidelines). The Guidelines form the basis for self-regulation in the United States for advertising to children in all media. The revised Guidelines are effective beginning January 1, 2022.

Authors: John P. Feldman

The majority of the newly published Guidelines are substantively the same as the Guidelines that have been in place for the last 15 years. Many of the changes to the Guidelines reflect improvements and clarifications that marketers have been asking for over the last several years. The announcement of the new Guidelines follows on the heels of the appointment of Mamie Kresses as Vice President for CARU at the BBB National Programs. Ms. Kresses spent more than 30 years at the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, including more than two decades working on federal consumer protection law enforcement actions, rulemaking, and business outreach activities for the Division of Advertising Practices, specifically in the areas of advertising law, online privacy, and enforcement of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Ms. Kresses co-led the FTC’s 2012 COPPA rule review. Thus, many observers believe that this appointment underscores the emphasis that the BBB National Programs places on its income-producing COPPA Safe Harbor Program. In light of the FTC’s recent delisting of one of the COPPA safe harbor programs and a heightened skepticism of self-regulation at the Commission, having someone of Ms. Kresses’ stature may also serve to bolster the legitimacy of CARU’s COPPA Safe Harbor Program.

In the non-privacy realm, CARU depends entirely on the willingness of advertisers and marketers to abide by the Guidelines. Many of the Guidelines do not reflect any normative law or legal standard. They are based on academic research about child development and the impact of advertising in our society. The existence of CARU has largely kept lawmakers at bay, which clearly is one of the key reasons marketers consult the Guidelines when designing marketing campaigns targeted at children.

Significant changes

In-game advertising

One of the most important changes to the Guidelines is that they contain new, pointed directives focused on advertising that appears in video games.

  • In online services directed at children, advertisements integrated into the content of a game should be easily identifiable as advertising.
  • Advertisements, apps, or games should not use unfair, deceptive, or other manipulative tactics, including but not limited to deceptive door openers, social pressure, or validation, to encourage viewing of an advertisement or in-app or in-game purchases, or to cause children to inadvertently or unknowingly engage with an advertisement.
  • Any methods provided to dismiss or exit an advertisement must be clear and conspicuous to children.
  • Advertisements, apps, or games that allow children to make purchases must make it clear that the purchase involves real currency.
  • Advertisers should take care to ensure that only age-appropriate games, videos, films, and interactive software are advertised to children and, if an industry rating system applies to the product, that the rating label is prominently displayed. The Guidelines note that violations of this Guideline may be brought to the attention of the relevant rating entity.