Advertising industry in talks to ban sexual portrayal of under-18s in ads

American Apparel's controversial advertising

The advertising industry is in talks to introduce new rules prohibiting the sexual portrayal of under-18s - or those who appear to be under 18 - in advertising as exploited by brands like American Apparel.

The Committee of Advertising Practice and Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP and BCAP) are consulting on proposals to end the premature sexualisation of under-18s in order to protect their welfare. The hope is to prevent the potential for some adults to view under-18s in general as sexual beings or the potential for under-18s to be pressurised to view themselves in this way.

Under social responsibility rules the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has the power to block inappropriate and sexual images of 16 and 17-year-olds, but without a specific age-related prohibition, advertisers have no explicit signal not to include such imagery and no certainty as to what images are likely to be acceptable.

The strengthened rules, should they go through, will give advertisers greater certainty on the types of imagery they can include in ad campaigns without being banned by the advertising watchdog. The rules will sit alongside national and international measures prohibiting certain types of sexual depiction of under-18s.

As part of the crackdown it has been proposed that the ASA be allowed the discretion to create exceptions for responsible advertising promoting the welfare of under-18s, such as an ad that sought to promote sexual health in 16 or 17-year olds.

American Apparel is one such brand that the new rules are targeting. In 2014 two ads for its ‘School Days’ campaign which featured young girls bending over with their crotches and bottoms on display were banned by the ASA for featuring “inappropriately sexualised school-age girls”.

In 2015 it received yet another ban from the ASA for "inappropriately sexualising" a young model wearing a thong bodysuit on its website.

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Jessica Goodfellow

The Drum's media reporter covering everything from publishing, TV, social media, radio and technology.

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