Protecting the Children:
A Comparative Analysis
Of French and American
Professional Freedom and Responsibility
Ronald E. Taylor
University of Tennessee
University of Tennessee
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Department of Advertising
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN 37996-0343
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Protecting the Children: A Comparative Analysis of French and American
This paper compares advertising self-regulations designed to protect children in
the United States and France. The findings suggest that French children enjoy
greater protection, and the authors question whether American children should
not be entitled to the same level of protection.
A French automobile tire manufacturer runs an advertising campaign in the
United States that features infants and toddlers floating about on the tires in
rainy and snowy conditions. An adult voice-over appeals to viewers' fears about
safety for their children while traveling in hazardous conditions. Ironically,
this commercial could not air in the manufacturer's own country because it
features children in advertising for a product that they themselves would not
buy, and it depicts children outside the surroundings of their everyday lives.
That children in their role as consumers deserve special protection from
overzealous and sometimes manipulative advertisers generally goes unquestioned
today in the United States and in many Western European countries. However, the
notion that it may be exploitative to use children as spokespersons or as images
in commercials for products not directly related to them is more a European idea
than an American one.
The International Advertising Association has spent several decades trying to
foster a greater understanding of the national differences in advertising
self-regulation in order to promote the "internationalization of advertising
regulation" (Stridsberg, 1974, p.38). Numerous surveys have been conducted by
or in conjunction with the IAA comparing guidelines. Finally, some 23 years
after the IAA's initial report suggested that further research was needed to
examine substantive issues such as advertising to children such a study has been
The purpose of this paper is to analyze and compare advertising
self-regulations regarding children in the United States and in France. France
was selected as the country for comparison because it has one of the most
developed system of advertising self-regulation in Western Europe (Baudot, p.
13). Furthermore, France is a leader in the European Advertising Standards
Alliance, and its regulations are often used as a model by other European
countries. By making the comparison, the authors hope to re-open the discussion
about regulations protecting children and bring to the forefront some potential
areas of protection that have been ignored in the United States.
Data for this paper come from (1) examination of the National Advertising
Division's (NAD) Children Advertising Review Unit (CARU) advertising guidelines
and all cases involving children reported by CARU in 1994 and 1995, (2)
examination (and translation) of all mentions of children in the French Bureau
de V rification de la Publicit 's Le Recueil des Recommandations and all cases
involving children reported in 1994 and 1995 in the BVP Echo, the newsletter of
Protecting Children in the United States
The belief that children deserve special protection from advertisers is fairly
new in the United States. The earliest media codes in the United States saw a
need to protect children from certain types of programming, but advertising
directed to children drew no special attention. For example, The Radio Code,
established in 1937, noted that programming should contribute to the healthy
development of personality and character, that depiction of conflict and
material reflective of sexual considerations should be handled with sensitivity,
and that programming should convey a reasonable range of the realities that
exist in the world to help children make the transition to adulthood.
The one mention regarding children and promotion cautioned that "programming
should avoid appeals urging children to purchase the product specifically for
the purpose of keeping the program on the air or which, for any reasons,
encourage children to enter inappropriate places" (Radio Code, 1937). Direct
appeals to children to buy products, to encourage children to ask their parents
to buy the product for them, or phrases such as "mother will be glad to have you
fix...all you want" (Radio transcript, 1940) were not considered problematic.
After 1950, American society's perception of children changed so that they came
to be seen as distinct individuals with rights, opinions, and the power to
purchase. Seeing this change as a golden opportunity, advertisers began to
target children more heavily as a market (Alexander, 1993). With this increase
in advertising directed toward children came an increase in public policy
concerns about the effects such practices might have. In his book, A
Bibliography of Research and Writings on Marketing and Advertising to Children
(1991), McNeal writes, "Prior to 1960, there was hardly anything written on the
subject of children's consumer behavior. Throughout the 1960s, interest in the
topic of children as a market continued at a low level." With the exception of
a slight drop-off in the early 1980s, children and advertising have become an
increasingly popular topic for scholars and laypeople alike.
Most of the research has focused on children as recipients of advertising
messages rather than as participants. One notable exception is the handful of
studies that have looked at gender stereotypes of children in toy advertising
(Ungar, 1982; O'Kelly, 1974). Not surprisingly, such studies generally have
found that advertising reinforces society's traditional sex-role stereotypes.
Recognizing that children deserve protection beyond that afforded to adults was
firmly established in the United States by 1974 when the National Advertising
Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) formed the Children's
Advertising Review Unit (CARU) to "promote truthful, accurate advertising to
children which is sensitive to the special nature of its audience" (CBBB, 1993,
Section 2.801). In its Do's and Don'ts in Advertising the CBBB explains that
"children are not simply little adults. Because their view and understanding of
the world is different from that of adults, and their experience in the
marketplace is limited, important considerations must be taken into account when
communicating advertising messages to children" (CBBB, 1993, Section 2.801).
CARU regulates advertising directed toward children in three basic ways:
providing guidelines, offering advice to those who seek it, and monitoring media
and investigating complaints. CARU informs advertisers of questionable
practices by publishing and updating its Self-Regulatory Guidelines for
Children's Advertising. In addition to the guidelines, CARU reports all case
decisions monthly in the NAD Case Reports, which includes the CARU Activity
Report summarizing inquiries, prescreening submissions, and commentaries.
CARU's Academic Advisory panel, made up of academics distinguished in the
fields of child development, nutrition, and children and the media, offers
general guidance to advertisers and advertising agencies regarding issues
concerning children's advertising. Furthermore, CARU will prescreen storyboards
or videotapes of proposed advertising to see that it meets the CARU guidelines.
Still, CARU does not prescreen all advertising and, therefore, must rely on
networks to do so or wait until after an advertisement has aired or been
published to determine if it is questionable.
CARU enforces its guidelines primarily through its own systematic monitoring of
cable and broadcast television, radio, children's magazines, and comic books.
Other advertisers and the concerned public can also bring complaints to CARU for
review. When advertising is found to be questionable, the advertiser is
notified and given five days to substantiate its claims or ten days to modify
the advertising before a formal case is opened. An advertiser who disagrees
with CARU's decision can appeal to the National Advertising Review Board (NARB),
a peer-review panel composed of members affiliated either with advertisers,
agencies, or the public. Finally, if a case is deemed to violate the law or if
the advertiser fails to respond to CARU's decision, the case may be turned over
to the appropriate government agency.
Protecting Children in France
At what age does a child become an adult? In the United States, CARU
regulations apply to children ages 12 and under. The International Chamber of
Commerce, however, in its advertising code defines a child, or minor, as one
under the age of 14. Most European countries have used this definition in their
codes. In some areas of product regulation such as with tobacco and alcohol, a
child is often defined as one under age 18. France uses the ICC Code definition
of 14 or under.
French advertising self-regulation dates to 1902 with the creation of la
Corporation des techniciens de la publicit and to 1905 with the creation of the
parallel la Chambre syndicale de la publicit . These two organizations merged
in 1934 to create the F d ration fran aise de la publicit . In 1935 French
advertisers formed the BVP, an organization created to "purify" advertising
practice. The association's original name was Office de Contr le des Annonces
and it cited three objectives: (1) assuring the sincerity of advertising, (2)
informing print media about misleading advertisements (les annonces trompeuses)
that had appeared in print, and (3) rendering advice on the morality and
legality of advertising projects submitted to it. (Greffe and Greffe, 1995).
In 1953 it changed its name to le Bureau de V rification de la Publicit and
its charter to include "leading in the interest of public respect actions in
favor of advertising that was fair, truthful, and beneficial (loyale, v ridique
Today BVP membership is made up advertisers, advertising agencies, media, and
related organizations. It regulates advertising in five ways: (1) issuing
guidelines (much like the Better Business Bureau's Do's and Don'ts in
Advertising Copy), which are based on interpretations of French law or industry
codes (d ontologie), (2) offering legal advice when requested by advertisers and
agencies, (3) monitoring claims in newspapers, radio, movie theatre, and poster
advertising (much like the monitoring function of the Federal Trade Commission
and the NARB), (4) reviewing all television commercials before they are aired
(much like the network television clearance process in the United States), and
(5) receiving and investigating consumers' and competitors' complaints about
specific advertising. The CARU and the BVP operate in very similar fashion.
There are, however, three notable differences. First, the BVP is empowered to
enforce various industry codes, which CARU is not. For example, BVP enforces
the French Automobile Advertising Code that prohibits emphasizing vehicular
speed in a commercial. Second, the BVP serves, at the government's request, as
the official clearance agency for all television advertising; and third, BVP
offers legal advice to its members. Table I summarizes the similarities in the
operating procedures of CARU and BVP.
Table I: Comparison of CARU and BVP Procedures
Offers legal advice
Will review advertising before production
Approves advertising before airing on television
Receives and investigates consumers' and competitors' complaints
If unsuccessful in negotiations with advertiser, refers case to government body
Yes, but often without advertiser's name. Considers brand mention as publicity
Specific regulations for children
The French government did not allow brand advertising on television until 1968.
For that reason, French regulations providing special protection for children
from advertising came much later than in the United States. The first French
regulations dealing specifically with children, L'article 6 du d cret du 26
janvier 1987, prohibited children and adolescents from being spokespersons for
products or services in advertising and forbade their being principal actors in
commercials unless there was a direct relationship between them and the
advertised product. In addition, the 1987 law forbade advertising generally
from exploiting the inexperience or credulity of children and adolescents. The
BVP immediately included the provisions of the law in its Recommandations. In
1989, the BVP added recommendations prohibiting direct appeals to children to
buy the product (although it later explained that appeals to children are
acceptable when the product, such as a toy, is within the child's field of
knowledge), appeals to children to persuade their parents or friends to buy a
product, or appeals that undermine the trust relationship between children and
their parents, their teachers, or other persons. Despite its later development,
French law and self-regulation are more protective of children than is the case
in the United States.
Table II summarizes the areas where both countries have regulations in place
and areas unique to each country. Self-regulations in both countries generally
prohibit misleading descriptions and representations about what is offered and
how a product performs. Both, for example, insist that the actual size of the
product be indicated, that items to be purchased separately must be indicated as
such, that the need for batteries be stated, that any product assembly be noted,
that appropriate age groups be shown using the product, and that the product and
what is being advertised not be misrepresented in any way.
In addition, both countries prohibit suggestions that owning the advertised
product will make the child superior in any way, advertising that would
challenge parents' authority or judgment, or messages that encourage children to
ask their parents to buy the product for them. For example, a 1994 CARU
decision against Kenner Products' Nerf weapon series cited the company for
promoting anti-social behavior and encouraging the notion that possession of a
toy leads to superiority. A commercial aired during children's programming
featured a "spokes kid" saying "Face it! You're at one end of Nerf or the other"
as a group of other children begin firing on a child who is without a Nerf
weapon. This unarmed child runs away as the others continue playing among
themselves. The commercial ends with the group of kids staring into a garbage
can, presumably at the unarmed child, as the spokes kid says, "Don't ya get it?
It's Nerf or Nothin!" (NAD Case Reports, 1994, pp.23-24).
CARU ruled that this commercial violated its guidelines against implying
superiority of a child with the toy over one without and against misleading
children as to the benefits of possessing the toy. As the case report
explained, "In the commercial the clear message is that if you don't have a Nerf
weapon you will be excluded rather than accepted _ In fact, in this commercial,
the import of the "Nerf or Nothin!" tag line seems to have evolved from meaning
if you don't have Nerf you have nothing, to meaning if you don't have Nerf you
are nothing" (NAD Case Reports, 1994, p.24). Because the advertising flight had
ended by the time CARU's decision was made, Kenner Products was not forced to
take action. However, CARU stressed that subsequent advertising should be
modified to avoid the promotion of anti-social behavior among children.
Both countries require that children not be shown engaging in unsafe practices
and activities or that children be shown in dangerous situations. The French
Code de la Route (highway safety law), for example, requires that motorcyclist
wear safety helmets; similarly, any depictions of motorcyclists in French
advertising must show them wearing helmets. Likewise, children under the age of
10 must use specified security systems inside automobiles, and when shown in
advertising, the security systems must be in use. The BVP sought and
accomplished a change in a print ad that showed a young child strapped into a
child's safety seat but only a seat belt was used. The French regulations
require that shoulder harnesses be
Table II: Common and Unique Areas of Regulation
Areas Common to France and the U.S.
Areas Unique to France
Areas Unique to United States
Advertising to children MUST:
A"_AClearly indicate actual product size
A"_AClearly indicate the knowledge/maturity level that is appropriate for
A"_AIdentify items that are to be purchased separately
A"_ANote if batteries are included
A"_AState that assembly is required
A"_ADemonstrate proper, safe use of the product
Advertising to children
A"_AMisrepresent the size, speed, or durability of the product
A"_AImply that children possessing the advertised product are, in any way,
A"_AChallenge parents' authority or judgment
A"_ANot encourage children to pressure parents
A"_A Advertising for pornographic films can not appear in theatres or media
where children likely to see the advertisement
A"_AAdvertising for any product that encourages purchasing through the mail or
on credit or any advertising that features a toll call to get information
A"_AChildren may not appear in alcoholic beverage advertising
A"_AChildren may not say the brand name of the product
A"_AChildren may not appear as principal actor in a commercial for which they
have no direct knowledge or use of the product
A"_AChildren under age 3 may not be shown eating the advertised product
A"_ATelephone sales calls may not be directed to children.
A"_A The use of program tie-ins or program characters in advertising during the
character's show is prohibited.
A"_AThe use of fantasy must not exploit the imaginations of children.
A"_AAdvertising for medicines and vitamins should not be directed toward
A"_AAdvertising of food must promote healthful eating habits.
A"_AThe use of premiums, kids' clubs, sweepstakes and teleprograms is limited.
A"_AAdvertising should avoid excessive violence.
A"_AAdvertising should avoid representations of "bad manners" and promote
positive social behavior.
used, and the advertiser re-shot the photograph to comply with the regulation
(Protegeons les enfants de la pub! 1996).
Regulations unique to France. French regulation prohibits showing a child of
less than age 3 consuming the advertised product. The reasoning is that such
depictions may give the impression that the advertised product provides the
nutritional elements and nourishment that children under this age need.
Children in commercials are not permitted to say the brand name of the product,
and it is suggested that children not appear in clothing that has the initials
or colors of the advertised product. However, adolescents older than age 16 and
who would be perceived as such may appear as principal actors in commercials and
may make recommendations in the commercial.
Television commercials may not encourage children to call toll numbers but may
include a toll-free number (numero verte). Alcoholic-beverage advertising,
which is banned from television, may not appear in publications specifically
aimed at children, and ads may not show children consuming alcohol or invite
consumption of the product.
Regulations unique to the United States. Because advertising in the United
States is aired throughout the programming, as opposed to French advertising
which occurs in blocks between programs, American regulations prohibit the use
of program characters in a commercial within their own program. Title
characters cannot be used in ads within their own print publication. These
regulations are meant to protect children who have difficulty distinguishing
programming from advertising. Similarly, children are thought to have greater
difficulty distinguishing reality from the imaginary. Therefore, advertisers
are cautioned to use fantasy carefully, avoiding unrealistic expectations of
Products considered inappropriate for children such as medications and vitamins
should not be advertised to children. When directing food advertising to
children, advertisers must avoid promoting poor eating habits. Products must be
shown within the framework of a balanced diet. Advertisements must not suggest
that one food can supply all the necessary nutrients of a well-balanced meal and
must not suggest over-consumption of the product.
American advertising self-regulations allow the use of premiums, sweepstakes,
and other promotions when targeting children but offer some guidelines. Premium
offers must be secondary to the product message and conditions for receiving the
premium must be clearly stated in terms a child can understand. Kid's clubs are
to be distinguished from simple premium offers by the fact that membership is
interactive, continuous, and exclusive. Sweepstakes must clearly state, in
terms understandable to a child, the chances of winning and offer prizes
appropriate to children.
Teleprograms directed to children are allowed but are required to: emphasize
that parents must okay any telephone calls; state that children will hear a
message about the Easter Bunny, rock star, etc. rather than actually speak to
the character; consist of self-contained story lines without cliff hangers or
references to other products or teleprograms.
As advertisers in the latter half of this century began to identify children as
potential markets, governments and self-regulatory bodies in the United States
and France began to implement policies to protect children from excessive
manipulation by advertisers. The thrust of the American regulation came about
in the early 1970s and the thrust of the French regulation occurred in the late
Today both American and French self-regulatory bodies have in place a number of
policies designed to protect children as consumers. The two countries are
concerned about how products are described and shown in advertising. But unlike
American policy, French self-regulations have extended to areas of children's
appearance in commercials. While the United States bans the use of children in
commercials for medical products intended for adults, France prohibits using
children as principal actors in advertising for any product for which there is
not a direct relationship between the product and the everyday life of the
child. Thus, while the United States protects children as consumers, France
protects children not only as consumers but also as actors in commercials.
Conclusion: Do American Children Deserve Greater Protection?
Controversy ensued when Calvin Klein launched his summer 1995 campaign for CK
jeans featuring teens in poses many found suggestive of child pornography. But
because American self-regulations fail to address age-inappropriate uses of
children and completely ignore adolescents, there was no basis for censuring
Klein's advertising. Compare this to the European treatment of Klein's 1994
Obsession for Men campaign featuring waif-like Kate Moss lying naked on a sofa.
Calling the advertising inappropriate and irresponsible, the British Advertising
Standards Authority demanded that the ad be pulled, not because the 20 year-old
model was naked but because she resembled a child. The ASA's decision was
later adopted by the BVP.
As this example and the review of French self-regulation pertaining to children
demonstrates, Europeans tend to afford greater protection to their young from
commercial exploitation than Americans do. We can learn from France's example
and should consider areas for improvement in the existing system. It is not
enough to concern ourselves with marketing to children, we must also avoid
exploiting children in order to sell products. Too often the fragile bond
between child and parent is preyed upon in order to sell everything from life
insurance to tires. Such emotional manipulation is impossible in France where
children cannot be featured in advertising for products not directly related to
French self-regulation has the additional advantage of requiring that all
television advertising, including that directed toward children, be prescreened.
CARU, on the other hand, relies on the networks, which have a financial stake
in approving advertising, to prescreen children's advertising. Commercials
placed on cable channels are likely to avoid screening altogether. As seen in
the example of Kenner Products' Nerf weapons series, by the time CARU discovered
the problematic commercial and decided that the it violated children's
advertising guidelines the campaign had run its course. Greater cooperation is
needed between the media and CARU if guidelines are to be enforced. If it is
unrealistic to expect networks to refuse profitable advertising even if it
violates guidelines, then perhaps the responsibility should be turned over to
By restricting how children appear and what use is made of them in commercials,
the U.S. advertising industry could help to improve its own image at home.
Children would no longer be used to hawk everything from dishwashers in network
spots to "My daddy's used car lot" in local television spots. No longer would
tots belt out over the airwaves "My bologna has a first name...." and the
industry might get closer to something stated long ago by CARU:
Children are not simply little adults.
Alexander, Victoria D. (1994), "The Images of Children in Magazine
Advertisements from 1905 to 1990," Communication Research, 21 (6), 742-765.
Baudot, Barbara (1989), International Advertising Handbook, Lexington, MDass.:
Bureau de v rification de la publicit (1992), BVP Recommandations.
Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc. (1993), Do's and Don'ts in Advertising,
October/November, Section 2.
Greffe, Pierre and Francois Greffe (1995) La Publicite & La Loi, Paris: Litec.
McNeal, James U. (1991), A Bibliography of Research and Writings on Marketing
and Advertising to Children, New York: Lexington Books.
NAD Case Reports (1994), "Kenner Products," April, 23-24.
O'Kelley, Charlotte G (1974). "Sexism in Children's Television," Journalism
Protegeons les enfants de la pub," BVP Echos, No. 148/Mars/Avril (1966, np).
Radio transcript (1940) for "Orphan Annie Shake-Up Mug." Transcribed from Radio
Reruns, "50 Radio Commercials," Minneapolis, n.d.
The complete transcript reads:
What's happening to you these days? Having lots of fun? Believe me,
I know some folks that are into some fun--those early bird friends of
Annie who've already sent for their new 1940 model Orphan Annie Shake-Up
Mugs. You know all of Annie's friends who drink sweet chocolate-flavored
Ovaltine can get these swell new shake-up mugs free, and, boy, are they
beauties! Wait til you see 'em! They're made of genuine vitaware in
brand new colors, a beautiful deep green and a bright flashing scarlet and
every mug has a big colored picture of Orphan Annie and her dog, Sandy,
right on the front. Now don't forget, this shaker-upper is a two-in-one
gift. When you put the top on, it makes a keen shaker for mixing your ice
cold chocolate-flavored Ovaltine shake- up. And then when you take the
bright red top off, presto, the shaker turns into a swell big drinking
mug. Holding a creamy bubbly shake-up all ready for you to drink. Man
alive, what fun you'll have with that new shaker-upper. Playing a
shake-up game with your friends and having shake- up parties--making a
picnic out of every meal this summer. Think of having a delicious ice
cold shake-up drink anytime you want it made with fresh cold milk and
sweet chocolate flavored Ovaltine. Mmmm, what a treat on a warm summer
day! And, of course, mother will be glad to have you fix all the
shake-ups you want because she knows how much extra pep and energy food
there is in every single Ovaltine shake-up. Loads of extra vitamins,
minerals and other things every body needs to be healthy and husky the way
we all want to be. So here's the thing, Annie wants all her friends to
have one of these swell new 1940 model shake-up mugs. And you want to get
one, I know, especially when Annie has fixed it so that fellows and girls
who drink Ovaltine can get one absolutely free even though our regular
price is 50 cents. So listen closely, here's what to do. Simply sit down
after tonight's adventure and print your name and address plainly on a
piece of paper, send it in along with the thin metal foil seal from under
the lid of a can of sweet chocolate- flavored Ovaltine. Mail it to Orphan
Annie, Chicago, IL and she'll send you your new 1940 model shake-up mug
absolutely free. Now don't put it off, will ya. Ask mother to get you a
can of sweet chocolate-flavored Ovaltine right now and send in that seal
for your free shake-up mug tonight. Mail it to Orphan Annie, Chicago,
IL. I'm sorry but she can offer this wonderful shake-up mug only to you
and your friends in the United States. But if you do live in the United
States, send in tonight.
Stridsberg, Albert B. (1974), Effective Advertising Self-Regulation. New York:
International Advertising Association, 38.
Ungar, Sheldon B. (1982), "The Sex-Typing of Adult and Child Behavior in Toy