The T-shirts, promoted in Zazzle Inc’s website, bore a slogan made (in)famous by supermodel Kate Moss, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels!”, shown in both the product image and in the labelling. Complaints were made to the ASA that advertising such t-shirts for children was irresponsible. Zazzle responded saying that its website was an open marketplace platform allowing users to sell products of their own design; while it did not pre-screen content, the website had tools allowing users to report products they found offensive. The ASA noted that Zazzle had already removed the ad, but found that, at the time it appeared, it featured children and promoted a product for children to wear that implied that being underweight was desirable. The ad could encourage children to turn to unhealthy diets or develop negative body images, and was therefore in breach of rules on social responsibility and protection of children.
It’s worth a reminder that while in the United States this type of case would not be considered “deceptive,” Section 5 also prohibits “unfair” advertising practices and the FTC has used that authority to occasionally target marketing practices that it believes are injurious and against public policy. One of the more recent examples involved a beer commercial that depicted, in the FTC’s words, “boating passengers as drinking Beck's beer while engaged in activities that require a high degree of alertness and coordination to avoid falling overboard.”
The ASA clearly takes advertising aimed at children, or of products for children, very seriously. With the ASA’s remit expanded since 1 March 2011 to include online promotions, websites offering marketplace-type services may well find that some level of screening may be necessary to ensure ads for items being marketed by users do not breach advertising rules.