The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has today issued a timely reminder that advertisers must think carefully about the content of any Halloween-themed promotions, particularly where adverts are likely to be seen by young children.

Advertising is regulated in the UK by a combination of legislation and two self- regulatory codes. The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code) and the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code) are enforced by the ASA.

Each of the Codes has a section (Section 5) dealing specifically with advertising to children but there are also child-focused rules in other sections of the Codes. The word “child” in both Codes means (with a few exceptions) someone under the age of 16.

Under the CAP Code, marketing communications addressed to, targeted directly at or featuring children must contain nothing that is likely to result in their physical, mental or moral harm and in particular, children must not:

  • be encouraged to:
    • enter strange places or talk to strangers
    • copy any practice that might be unsafe for a child
  • be shown:
    • in hazardous situations or behaving dangerously except to promote safety
    • unattended in street scenes unless they are old enough to take responsibility for their own safety
    • using or in close proximity to dangerous substances or equipment without direct adult supervision

There are similar rules in the BCAP Code, but in addition, advertisers must be very careful about scheduling. Adverts which could distress young children should not be scheduled in or around children's programmes or programmes likely to be seen by significant numbers of children.

Sanctions for breaching the Codes include:

  • the ASA requiring the offending advert to be withdrawn or amended
  • the CAP advising its members (including the media) to withhold access to advertising space
  • referral to Trading Standards or Ofcom

Advertisers should take note that even where a complaint can be resolved informally, there can be significant costs in terms of management time and adverse publicity – far better to spend that time pre-publication considering whether the advert is really suitable for its likely audience.