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The Children’s Advertising Review Unit of BBB National Programs (CARU) has issued two recommendations this summer addressing negative social stereotypes in children’s advertising. The first decision involves fashion retailer Primark and the second decision, involved Moose Toys.

In 2021, CARU signaled a stance on positive social representation in children’s advertising—first in a February 2021 blog post on diversity and inclusion and second in August 2021, when CARU announced that its updated Guidelines would include a provision stating that “advertising should be respectful of human dignity and diversity. Advertising should not portray or encourage negative social stereotyping, prejudice, or discrimination.” This guidance has implicated issues of gender, race and other protected characteristics.

CARU Analyst, Rashida Gordon, wrote in the February 2021 post:

Today it is possible for an ad to display racial diversity yet simultaneously rely on stereotypical gender roles that ostracize a community, such as in an ad that features an interracial family with two children where the boy plays with cars and robots and the girl plays with dolls and tea sets.

Is that really progress if one trope has been shelved and yet a reliance remains on traditional/stereotypical gender roles?     

Broadening the Definition of Express and Implicit Representation in Children’s Advertising, CARU, BBB National Programs (Feb. 18, 2021). CARU encouraged the advertising community to continue to demonstrate progress on these issues.

The Primark decision involves gender-restrictive messages on children’s clothing. Representative examples of Primark’s advertised messages included:

  • Slogans on shirts advertised to girls such as: “Be Kind, Be Happy,” “Kindness always wins,” “Always Perfect,” “Grateful, humble and optimistic,” and “Be good, do good.”
  • Slogans on shirts advertised to boys such as: “Change the game,” “Born to win,” “Power,” “Champion,” “Total Icon,” and “Awesome Adventures.”

In its analysis, CARU determined that Primark’s separate lines of messaging perpetuated gender stereotypes and a “dichotomous world of goals and attributes — those appropriate for girls and those appropriate for boys.” CARU recommended that Primark modify its ads to avoid portraying or encouraging negative stereotyping, prejudice or discrimination.

Primark agreed to comply with CARU’s recommendations and since has made several changes to ensure that the company’s marketing efforts reflect its values of diversity and inclusivity.

The Moose Toys decision involved advertising and product packaging for the “Fail Fix Total Makeover Dolls.” The ads depicted distraught animated dolls with messy, “failed” hair and makeup. The packaging featured messages such as: “My dance class starts soon. I can’t move with this tangled mess” and “Nope. No way. Nuh-uh. I can’t be seen like this!” Both the commercial and product packaging featured dolls that looked upset because of their beauty fails and then appeared happy when their failed look was “corrected.” During play, the child could remove the doll’s “failed face” to reveal a face with perfect makeup and style the doll’s failed hair. 

CARU determined that the ads were not inclusive and characterized a girl with imperfect makeup and messy hair as a “failure” and worthy of public embarrassment. According to CARU, such marketing messages place undue pressure on girls to conform to unrealistic standards of beauty and perfection, and ultimately perpetuate negative and harmful stereotypes about girls.

In addition, CARU found that the characteristics and personalities attributed to each doll were likely to perpetuate racial and cultural stereotypes. For example, the “Kawaii.Qtee” doll appears to be an Asian girl obsessed with anime, while the “Dance.Stylz” doll is a Black girl characterized as a master of “hip hop” dance. The “PreppiPosh doll,” described as a “hardworking scholar,” is a Caucasian girl with blonde hair.

In response to CARU’s inquiry, Moose Toys informed CARU that it is no longer distributing or supporting this line of dolls and that the company had removed the ads for Fail Fix Dolls from its website and other platforms.

Navigating advertising compliance, enforcement, and litigation can and should be handled with counsel. Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP has a team of experienced advertising and marketing attorneys that can help clients understand and proactively respond to emerging advertising challenges.