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ASA introduces new rules to advertising codes prohibiting sexual portrayal of under 18s

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United Kingdom

In a step to further protect children and ensure that they are used in advertising in a socially responsible manner, the ASA has introduced a prohibition on portraying or representing persons aged under 18 or who appear to be aged under 18 in a sexual manner.

In a step to further protect children and ensure that they are used in advertising in a socially responsible manner, the ASA has introduced a prohibition on portraying or representing persons aged under 18 or who appear to be aged under 18 in a sexual manner. 

New rules 4.8 of the non-broadcast code (CAP Code) and 4.13 of the broadcast code (BCAP Code) were added to the codes on 2 January 2018. They enhance the existing rules of the CAP and BCAP Codes, which already contain extensive provisions to protect minors. Under the previous rules, the ASA highlighted a number of its concerns regarding the use of minors in adjudications against advertisers, whose marketing communications were deemed to be socially irresponsible for portraying young girls in provocative and sexually suggestive poses, facial expressions and clothing. Under the previous rules, the ASA considered whether the individuals featured in advertising were or appeared to be under the age of 16. This bar has now been raised to 18.

The new rules do not prohibit advertisers from using minors in their marketing communications, but they must ensure that any models portrayed or represented in a sexual way are in fact aged over 18 years old and that they also look over 18. It is important to note the latter as advertisers will still be caught by the prohibition if their adult models look younger than 18, despite being older. Advertisers have been caught out by this in the past. They have used models aged over 18, such as 22-25 year old models, but several other components of their marketing communications have given the impression that the models are much younger and appear to be portrayed as minors.

Therefore, when considering whether models are being portrayed or represented in a sexual way, the ASA will consider a number of factors, including "the clothing, make up, pose and gaze of models" as well as any text and any symbols of youth, such as school uniforms.

The only exception to this prohibition relates to marketing communications aimed at promoting the welfare of or preventing harm to under-18s, provided that any sexual portrayal or representation is not excessive.​

ASA advice online: https://www.asa.org.uk/advice-online/children-sexual-imagery.html

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