CARU’s Year in Review: Defining Kidvertising and Tackling Hot Topics Head On

Dec 10, 2020 by BBB National Programs

During an uncertain year, when laughter at times was in short supply and pivoting to a virtual environment became a team effort across the country, the team at the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) stayed busy. Through casework, online conferences, an evolving technology landscape, updates to policy and guidelines, and new thought leadership, our efforts furthered our mission to help companies comply with the laws and guidelines that protect children and their personal data.

Each year our monitoring efforts of child-directed media bring us interesting cases, and the outcome that we hope for is proactive corporate accountability on children’s privacy. This year, that is exactly what Discord Inc. delivered.

Generally, operators of social media platforms should be aware that their online service may attract younger users and the platform should take appropriate precautions to prevent them from using the service. CARU began an investigation into Discord Inc., a social media platform that provides text, voice, and video communications services, and found that the company has done just that.

After reviewing evidence submitted, CARU was convinced that Discord targets their advertising campaigns to a more mature audience, uses a subscription-based business model instead of a data-driven social media model that monetizes online behavioral data, and added an age gate as an added safety measure to ensure children under 13 do not sign up for its service.  

In addition to data protection, the team at CARU also monitors the digital landscape to help protect children from deceptive or inappropriate advertising. This year CARU reviewed a television advertisement promoting America’s Milk Companies produced by the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board (MilkPEP). The advertisement showed skateboarders performing tricks in a public area without helmets or other safety gear. 

In this case, CARU determined that the advertisement did not comply with CARU’s guidelines and the CARU team recommended that MilkPEP discontinue the ad, which appeared during children’s programming, or modify it to include proper representation of safety gear. CARU has long held that advertisements should not portray adults or children engaging in activities that could be potentially unsafe without depicting the use of proper precautions and safety equipment. Additionally, advertisers should consider that children may imitate activities featured in commercials without regard to risk. 


Guiding CARU Decisions

The CARU program was established in 1974 and the program’s guidelines were established to act as a roadmap for responsible children’s advertising. In the spring of 2020, CARU began the process of updating its Guidelines, which have not undergone a substantive update in over a decade. 

One change, which will be noticeable almost immediately, is that privacy guidelines, which up until now have been outlined in the same document as the advertising guidelines, are being extracted as their own standalone document. The privacy guidelines are subject to change under the pending Federal Trade Commission (FTC) COPPA rule review, and, as there have been major technological advancements since the last CARU Guidelines update, the privacy guidelines require unique attention from our team. 

Though we expect both sets of guidelines to be released in the first quarter of 2021, the release date for each may differ.

Once new guidelines are released, you can be sure the CARU team will walk advertising, marketing, privacy, technology, and legal professionals through the nuances of each change and update. One place to look is here on the blog, where in-depth articles cover topics such as mobile app and device permissions, tips for safe app usage, COPPA and children's privacy, the differences between child-directed and general audience content, notice and verifiable parental consent, as well as tips for safe and effective holiday shopping, the difference between contextual and behavioral advertising, and how to navigate advertising in children's apps.   


Convening Experts for Critical Conversations

Even with the challenge of the pandemic, meeting with our stakeholders to share expertise and discuss the impact our changing landscape was having on the children’s space was a necessity. The annual CARU Conference was adapted to an unexpected virtual environment in 2020, and the result was 20 expert speakers participating in eight sessions over the course of seven months.

Ranging from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to popular digital platforms like SnapChat and YouTube, and heavy hitters in the children’s toy and entertainment industry – including LEGO, Mattel, Big Bad Boo, and Verizon – our speakers discussed the complexities of COPPA with insights such as how to implement privacy by design in mobile apps, unique compliance questions facing the eSports industry, and the real challenges companies face when dealing with product design to determine whether COPPA compliance measures will actually be effective in protecting children.

Our speakers tackled the most important conversations of the year, such as how their brands are tackling diversity and inclusion issues and how these initiatives have led to the production of inclusive toy and entertainment offerings for children.

One common theme throughout the year’s event was the rapid pace of change in technology resulting in a steady increase in the creation of new digital experiences for children. As innovation continues and new products and platforms are developed, the need to support those new to the children’s space grows. This year the CARU team hosted Kidvertising 101, a classroom-style seminar designed to introduce those less familiar with the laws, rules, and guidelines regulating the children’s space to the best practices that will help them keep pace with and navigate constant change.

Participants reviewed landmark cases in children’s advertising, learned how to avoid those issues, and gained insights and best practices from Kidvertising 101 faculty about specific types of advertising in the children’s space, including the use of influencers, social media promotions, and mobile advertising. Participants learned how to pursue a digital ad campaign that is brand safe, as well as the history of food and beverage advertising to children and current events that have impacted the food advertising industry nationally and globally. 

The seminar reviewed CARU cases that involved online privacy issues, including the case that became the landmark FTC Settlement with TikTok, and through the course of these examples learned how to properly implement COPPA compliance measures like verifiable parental consent, notice, age screening, and what to include (and not include) in privacy policies for child-directed services. 

As an industry self-regulatory program for children’s advertising and an FTC Safe Harbor privacy program, CARU exists to support businesses in their compliance efforts while also holding them accountable to the guidelines and laws that keep children safe. CARU has services, such as pre-screening advertisements and one-on-one safe harbor services for companies, as well as a complaint portal for companies and consumers to make sure everyone’s voice is heard. 

We appreciate the support from our supporters, stakeholders, event attendees, and sponsors this year and look forward to an exciting, eventful 2021. 

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