From 2 January 2018, the rules on how you can portray under-18s in advertising will get stricter. Marketing communications in non-broadcast media (including newspapers, direct marketing communications, posters, online advertisements, etc.) and advertisements in broadcast media (including tv and radio) "must not portray or represent anyone who is, or seems to be, under 18 in a sexual way". Any sexual portrayal of someone under 18 (however mild) in advertising (regardless of the target audience) will be deemed by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") to automatically breach either the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (the "CAP Code”)1 or the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (the "BCAP Code")2.

The new rules have been produced following a public consultation which ran from November 2016 to January 2017, which revealed support from a significant majority of respondents representing a cross-section of the advertising industry and interested charities. Notably:

  • Children's Society highlighted the need for companies to market their products in a responsible way and to cease encouraging adults to view children in a sexualised manner and children to regard themselves as sexual objects;
  • Girlguiding revealed research that sexualised images of girls and women has a negative impact on young girls' body confidence and makes them feel disempowered;
  • Zero Tolerance expressed concern that young women being depicted as sexual objects encourages boys and men to see them as such, which in turn promotes gender inequality in society and attitudes which justify and normalise violence and abuse.
  • As a result of the consultation, CAP and BCAP have opined that the new rules are necessary and proportionate to protect the welfare of under-18s. (It should be noted that the rules contain an exemption for advertisements which promote the welfare of under-18s or which are aimed at preventing harm to them; for example advertisements which focus on sexual health or family planning.)
  • The new rules are an explicit signal to exclude sexual imagery of under-18s in your marketing and advertising efforts. Before the new rules take effect in January 2018, you need to review your existing and planned marketing and advertising materials and make any changes necessary to ensure compliance with the Codes. Non-compliant parties will be forced by ASA to withdraw or amend the prohibited advertisements, and may also find themselves subject to adverse publicity resulting from ASA rulings or further sanctions including the denial of media space.illion ($51 million).