Insights ASA and CAP respond to DCMS Select Committee report on Influencer Culture by reminding marketers of CAP guidance on using under-16s as brand ambassadors


As reported in April 2022, the DCMS Select Committee published a report on Influencer Culture identifying various issues in relation to children involved in influencer marketing and children who follow influencers that create content for a child audience in social media. As the ASA and CAP note, the issues covered a lack of protection under child labour law, safety, wellbeing and privacy concerns for the child influencers themselves. The report also highlighted the need for influencer marketing to be adequately labelled as such, particularly given that children’s ability to identify advertising and understand its persuasive intent may be lower due to their less-developed cognitive capabilities. The DCMS Committee recommended that CAP conduct a review of the use of under-16s in marketing, ensuring that special focus was given to the use and impact of child influencers, noting the time that had elapsed since CAP last addressed “child brand ambassadors” in 2012.

CAP says that since 2012 it has in fact developed a range of detailed advice and guidance tailored to influencer marketing, setting out the type of material that falls within CAP’s remit and the steps advertisers and publishers should take to make clear when an ad is an ad. Research shows that younger children struggle with significantly integrated and highly immersive marketing in online environments, such as paid-for and controlled product endorsements by influencers. Therefore, ads directed at under-12s that are highly immersive or significantly integrated into the surrounding editorial content and unlikely to be identified clearly from the context in which they appear require an even higher level of disclosure. On the back of evidence presented by the research, CAP issued guidance that advises that ad disclosure should be:

  • within or directly next to the marketing communication;
  • of significant size and colour to stand out; and
  • readily apparent before (if possible) or immediately at the point of engagement.

CAP also points to its specific rules relating to the content of marketing directed at children. For example, ads are required to do nothing likely to result in physical, mental or moral harm of children, nor should they make children feel inferior or unpopular if they do not have a product. Generally, marketers are urged to prepare their campaigns with a sense of social responsibility.

Relevant ASA/CAP advice and guidance includes:

  • Recognising ads: Children;
  • Recognition of advertising: Online marketing to children under 12;
  • Recognising ads: Advertisement features;
  • Recognising ads: Blogs and vlogs;
  • Recognising ads: Social media and influencer marketing;
  • Children: General; and
  • Influencers’ guide to making clear that ads are ads.

The ASA and CAP say that these resources detail the many and wide-ranging protections the CAP Code provides to children from misleading or irresponsible marketing by child influencers (as well as others). The regulators also say that they will seek to add to or amend these protections should robust evidence suggest it is necessary.

CAP recognises that there are legitimate and serious concerns around the safeguarding of children working as influencers, their protection from financial exploitation and other harms. It says that the CAP Code regulates marketing communications, including those produced by child influencers. However, it is not within the remit of the CAP Code to prohibit or impose standards on the employment of children as influencers. Concerns relating to the nature of that practice would be more appropriately tackled by other bodies, it says.

The ASA and CAP note that the Government response to the DCMS Committee report indicates that the Department for Education is considering legislative approaches to address the current gap in protection and CAP will consider whether output from that work would benefit from being sign-posted in the guidance it provides. To read the regulators’ response in full and for links to all relevant guidance, click here.