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Children's toy advertising code in Spain gets gender equality update

Published on 29th Dec 2022

The government and the advertising and toy industries have amended Spain's 2015 code to address gender stereotyping in toy advertising. 

Toy advertisements have featured heavily again this Christmas on television screens and channels in Spain. But because advertising can be a highly persuasive form of communication,  special caution needs to be taken about minors and their vulnerability. For this reason, numerous organisations in recent years, including advertisers, manufacturers, associations and public bodies, have promoted self-regulation provisions to look after minors and avoid abuses in advertising.

The latest update on this matter was agreed on 27 April 2022 when the Consumer Affairs Ministry, the Spanish Association of Toy Manufacturers and the Association for the Self-Regulation of Communication, known as Autocontrol, decided to amend the Code of Conduct for Children's Toy Advertising.

The new version of the code entered into force on 1 December and aims to protect children in the current socio-cultural and technological context of the toy industry's commercial communications. The code contains a total of 64 ethical rules to ensure a more egalitarian, truthful and constructive toy advertising which is essential for the protection and development of minors.

Protection update

The update is in line with other recent legislative reforms aimed at strengthening the protection of minors against abusive advertising practices, such as the new provisions introduced in the Audiovisual Communication Law and  in the Digital Services Act; for example, in the latter, the prohibition of profiling of minors for commercial purposes by online service providers.

The main update to the code is a new provision that eradicates sexist stereotypes in toy advertising. Society is used to seeing television advertisements that attribute the colour blue to boys and pink to girls, a gender distinction that leads to a clear division among children. A 2020 study on stereotypes and gender roles in toy advertising issued by the Women's Institute together with the Spanish government revealed that 34% of the ads related to professions and aimed at girls were associated with jobs in sectors such as hairdressing, beauty or housework and, of those aimed at boys, 50% were related to the professions of pilots, policemen or soldiers. In addition, according to this study, 38.5% of the advertisements in Christmas toy campaigns showed girls as female archetypes of beauty, caregiver, mother or wife.

With the new provisions of the code, toy industry players will no longer be able to make gender distinctions when advertising their products. Dolls, babies, toys related to fashion and cosmetics or those related to housework will no longer be exclusively aimed at girls; cars, soldiers or toys related to sports, action or technology will no longer be aimed solely at boys.

Spain is not the only country that has decided to adopt measures in this sense; other European countries such as France and the United Kingdom have also taken steps to regulate children's toy advertising in order to put an end to these sexist stereotypes.

Scope of application

The provisions of the code are applicable to all entities adhered to it in relation to their toy advertising practices that are aimed at children under the age of 15, with a particular focus on the age group up to seven-years old because of their vulnerability. The new version of the code includes a provision that aims to clarify the concept of advertising. It expressly states that it does not only cover television advertising but also any promotion or sponsorship, direct marketing and digital advertising, as well as any other form of communication disseminated by advertisers in exchange for payment or consideration.

New provisions

The code regulates the obligation of audiovisual advertising to incorporate a series of pictograms that graphically clarify issues related to the assembly, price or technical requirements of toys. In this sense, guidelines on the use of pictograms in toy advertising are attached to the code.

Without prejudice to the prohibition of the appearance of well-known characters among children in toy advertising −a matter that was already contemplated in its 2015 version − the new update of the code stipulates that the dissemination of commercial communications may include the presence of influencers, provided that the provisions of Autocontrol's code on the use of influencers in advertising are respected.

Messages that directly encourage the compulsive accumulation of toys are prohibited. The compendium aims to prevent children's advertising from inciting minors to convince their relatives to buy the products that are the object of the commercial communications.

The code advocates advertising "free of gender" roles and stereotypes that may encourage inequality between men and women in the eyes of minors. Specifically, the code prohibits commercial communications that portray roles traditionally established exclusively for girls and boys, depict girls with a sexualised image or in which they appear dressed or made up as women, present images that encourage discrimination or degrading treatment of minority groups, include express or tacit indications that make it clear that the toys are intended only for one sex (for example, pastel colours versus dark colours), and reproduce images or situations promoting violence or bullying.

Based on the new means of dissemination and the breakthrough of new technologies, the code includes a ban on sending advertising to mobile devices of children under 14 years old and includes in the concept of "mobile devices" both mobile phones and video game consoles, laptops, tablets or smart watches.

The code establishes rules for the dissemination of this type of advertising to those over 14 years of age. These include an obligation to obtain the express consent of the minor for the sending of advertising via instant messaging systems, such as SMS, or to receive push notifications in apps and establish requirements regarding the information that must be provided in relation to advertising based on geolocation data.

Osborne Clarke comment

The current technological and sociocultural reality has led the government and others involved in the industry to update the code and focus on the traditional gender stereotypes that are deeply rooted in children's toy advertising. Despite this new regulation, stereotyped advertising will still be present this Christmas, as advertising campaigns issued prior to the code's entry into force on 1 December 2022 will have a transitional period of one year to adapt to the regulations.

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* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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