• CARU Steps Up Review of Kids' Ads
  • December 6, 2005
  • Law Firm: Reed Smith LLP - Pittsburgh Office
  • In keeping with its commitment to monitor advertising directed at children more closely, the Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) announced the results of more inquiries during the first two weeks of November than it has during any other month this year.

    CARU, an arm of the National Advertising Review Council, announced the results of nine separate inquiries from Nov. 1 to Nov. 17. Prior to that, the largest number of inquiries reported monthly by CARU this year was in August, when the organization reported on eight cases.

    Most of CARU's reviews concerned food product ads -- a subject of growing concern among lawmakers, regulators and advocates.

    Three of the actions involved ads by Kraft Foods, Inc. CARU expressed concern over an ad for Kraft's New Lunchables Chicken Shake-Ups, which featured the chicken to the exclusion of the other food items. CARU stated the ad might mislead children into thinking chicken by itself could constitute a well-balanced meal.

    While Kraft agreed to incorporate CARU's recommendations to depict food from at least four of the five food groups in its ads, the company called CARU's action "rulemaking by adjudication" and objected to the announcement of a "significant change" in CARU's guidelines without more deliberate rulemaking.

    Kraft also said it would discontinue ads for Post brand cereals that appeared to CARU to feature the premium, "Postokens," more prominently than the cereals. Focusing on a product's premium, as opposed to the product itself, violates CARU's guidelines. In a third matter, Kraft agreed to add a prominent disclosure to the home page of a Web site promoting its "Cheesiest Kid in America 2005" contest, notifying potential contestants that proofs of purchase are required for entry.

    In other reviews, CARU criticized a Unilever ad for a Skippy Peanut Butter sweepstakes that appeared in Sports Illustrated for Kids magazine for not disclosing prominently enough that entrants needed to be 13 or older to enter. In response, Unilever disclosed the age requirements on its sweepstakes Web site and stated it would not run any more print ads regarding the contest.

    Kellogg, too, was criticized for an ad that ran in Sports Illustrated for Kids, which CARU claimed focused on the premium -- secret codes to be used on Disney's Virtual Magic Kingdom Web site -- rather than on Kellogg cereals. Kellogg responded that its intent was to introduce children to partner Disney's Web site, as well as the "Conquer the Sea Game" on its own site. The company promised to discontinue future placements of the ad and take CARU's concerns under consideration.

    Three of the remaining ads reviewed concerned toy products. Mattel objected to a CARU conclusion that its ad for the Hot Wheels Mega Air Jumper created the unsubstantiated impression that the toy could jump from loose gravel. However, Mattel stated it had no plans to run the commercial again and would consider CARU's recommendations.

    CARU referred two matters to the Federal Trade Commission. It referred ads featuring the Banzai Falls Quickset Waterslide and Bonzai Falls Megawave after a competitor challenged the accuracy of the advertiser's claims on packaging and on its Web site. The product's advertiser, Toy Quest, did not substantively respond to CARU's inquiry, the organization stated.

    CARU also referred to the FTC the 321Chat.com Web site, which provided chat rooms for children under 13, teenagers and adults. CARU expressed concern that the chat room for children allowed kids to communicate with users of all ages without obtaining parental consent, and did not post a privacy policy. The site operator posted a privacy policy and temporarily suspended the Kids Chat operation, but the privacy policy was not in compliance with CARU guidelines, and children continued to have access to the Teen and Adult Chat rooms, CARU stated.

    Why This Matters: Lawmakers, the Federal Trade Commission and advocacy groups have increased pressure on companies advertising products to children. Concerns include the marketing of food products linked to health concerns, and increased marketing using games, contests and product placements. Industry self-regulatory authorities such as CARU and NARC have increased their oversight to demonstrate that regulation and additional laws are unnecessary.