Do you remember waking up early on a Saturday morning, grabbing a bowl of cereal and enjoying your favorite cartoon? If you do – you will also remember the waves of commercials that interrupted your favorite show.
In life, everyone follows a set of rules or a moral compass – how does this come into play in the advertising game? Marketing to kids is a double edged sword that tends to cause more harm than good.
The rules of marketing to kids differ from country to country and from industry to industry. And not only are there widely different rules in different countries, many of them have changed over the years. The European Union has had a couple of different standards. In the early 90’s the EU adopted the Television Without Frontiers Directive, which did things like prohibit pornography and inappropriate materials from being shown during certain hours when kids were likely to be watching. In 2009 that was replaced by The EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which stated (among other regulations) that ads should “not directly encourage minors to persuade their parents or others to purchase the goods or services being advertised.”
To better understand this, we will have to take a closer look at the rules of marketing to kids in the United States. Our country simply has not kept up with the rest of the world in terms of implementing science-based standards for marketing to kids. Many other countries have taken steps to:
- Ban fast food marketing to kids under the age of 13.
- Restrict ads aimed at children for foods high in calories, sugars, fat and sodium.
- Ban the use of cartoons or toys to market unhealthy foods.
- Require educational labels on ads for unhealthy foods.
Not only is direct marketing to kids as big a problem as it’s ever been, the ways in which online marketing tracks a user’s behavior across platforms makes it more pernicious than ever to hypertarget ads to children. A report in 2016 claimed that watching programming from internet streaming services has “saved children of the 2010s from 150 hours of commercials every year.” But what they may be missing in ads is being made up and exceeded within the programming itself. Where once there were toy commercials, now kids are watching unboxing videos on YouTube, or toy reviews. And they’re popular. “Ryan’s world” is a YouTube Channel in which an 8-year old boy reviews toys. He has more than 23 million subscribers.
Now, up to this point the main focus has been on how advertisers reach kids, and what the rules are. But it’s important to take a step further, and look at the question of whether we SHOULD be advertising to kids. There’s a lot of research on the impacts of advertising on children. We may have the best of intentions, but without understanding what advertising does to a child’s brain, even the best intended campaign can have negative impacts.
There are a lot of factors that can make marketing particularly effective on children, but the dark side is they can result in very negative behaviors that last into later life. You’re not just marketing a product, you’re having an impact on who that person is at an impressionable age.
Let’s unpack how to market ethically when kids are involved. The main takeaways are:
- Talk to parents, not kids. They make the ultimate purchasing decisions, so don’t shortcut parents to get to children.
- Take the long-term view, not that if you hook them now you’ll have them forever, but that if you build trust with parents and kids now, you’ll win loyalty in the future.
- Understand and consider the effects your campaigns have on children, and plan accordingly.
- Don’t assume you know. Involve professionals. Bring child psychologists into your market research, not to better manipulate kids, but to ensure you’re doing no harm
Do your part to protect children. Be ethical in your marketing and not only will you stay legally safe, you’ll find lifelong advocates for your business, both in children and their parents.For more information on this topic, head over to The Marketing Rescue Podcast.