Kids, New Media and Food: An Ethical Conundrum

Today’s kids aren’t like past generations — they are more connected and know how to work mobile devices and apps before they even learn how to read. In fact, mobile devices have become an influential part of family life — even babies are being exposed smartphones and tablet devices on a daily basis.

So, in today’s digital age, is it ethical for companies to use new media to market to kids?

To even attempt to answer this question, we must first ask: What the heck is ethical marketing? The answer to this second question is both complex and contentious, as often the line between doing what is right and making a dollar is easily blurred  In general, ethical marketing is described as a philosophy that promotes honesty, fairness and responsibility in advertising. According to the American Marketing Association, advertising professionals are responsible for adhering to the following ethical norms in advertising practices:

  1. Do not harm. Marketers must utilize high ethical standards and follow all laws and regulations to avoid harmful actions or omissions.
  2. Foster trust in the marketing system. Marketers must strive for truth in marketing and avoid misleading or deceptive product design, communication, pricing and distribution.
  3. Embrace the core ethical values of honesty, responsibility, fairness, respect, transparency and citizenship.

Okay, now that we have somewhat cleared up, back to our original question: is it ethical for companies to use new media to market to kids? According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the answer is no. Children are extremely vulnerable to advertising. In fact, research suggests a child under the age of eight lacks the cognitive skills necessary to comprehend the persuasive nature of advertisements — one 30-second advertisement can influence the brand preferences of a child as young as two years old. As a result, ads can unknowingly influence a child’s brand preferences, purchase requests and even diets.

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Sneaky, sneaky… Do not underestimate the sneakiness of advertisers when it comes to marketing to kids.

As adults we are aware that marketing and advertisements are meant to persuade us, but did you know that most kids are not?

Research has shown that a child under the age of eight lacks the cognitive skills necessary to comprehend the persuasive nature of advertisements. Children younger than two often cannot distinguish commercials from regular TV programming while older children can have a hard time recognizing product placement as advertising. As a result, ads can unknowingly influence their brand preferences, purchase requests and even diets.

Fact: Children now spend $40 billion dollars of their own money and influence another $700 billion in spending annually – roughly the equivalent of the combined economies of the world’s 115 poorest countries.

From television to the Internet and even in school, today’s youth are bombarded with advertisements pretty much from the time they get up in the morning until they go to bed. It is estimated that in the span of one year, a child is exposed to more than 25,000 commercials on TV alone. On top of that, one 30-second ad spot can influence the brand preferences of a child who is as young as two years old. So knowing this, is it ethical for marketers to target children?

According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the answer is no.

And although there are some laws and regulations in order for limiting ads on television, the Internet seems to be somewhat of a free-for-all when it comes to marketing goods to kids. New media is being used to pedal everything from food to toys is ways so sneaky that many kids are oblivious to that fact they are be targeted. Here are some examples of the ways new media is being used as a tool to market to children:

Social media: Marketers target kids to like and share brands and products with their friends via social media websites. If they haven’t opted out with their parents, children under the age of 18 with a Facebook account can be targeted to receive “sponsored stories” based on his or her profile. There has been some recent uproar regarding Facebook and how it uses minor’s profiles, so hopefully more will be done to minimize this kind of online behavior. Read about a recent settlement regarding the topic, and the use of kids’ images in Facebook advertisements, here.

And if that isn’t bad enough, brands like General Mills offer kid-centric websites, like honeydefender.com, where children can make comics and movies starring the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee, Buzz. When complete, they are able to share their creations via social media and even allowed to email them to their friends. Sounds like General Mills is using kids to help create a “buzz” about their cereal (pun intended).

Data [Brain] Mining: Marketers are employing new technologies on children — such as brain scans, blink tests and eye tracking — to see how they react when exposed to certain characters, colors and other stimuli.

Advergames: New media has made it easier than ever for companies to target kids with interactive media. Using the Internet and mobile apps, big brands like General Mills expose kids to brands under the guise of puzzles, interactive stories and even video games. Don’t believe me? Check out LuckyCharms.com — you’ll find a plethora of games that kids can’t resist playing. They’re all free to play and star — you guessed it — the cereal’s mascot Lucky the Leprechaun, as well as the eight lucky charms (hearts, stars and rainbows… anyone?). It’s magically sneaky marketing.

And the list can go on and on and on and on and… well, you get it.

What are some ways marketers target youth using new media that you’re aware of? Comment below.

Out with the old, in with the new [media]

Social media, video streaming, mobile apps, email…

The future of communication as we know it is evolving more rapidly than ever, with no signs of slowing down. Gone are the days when printed newspapers broke news and the mailman  delivered important correspondence. Printed encyclopedias now gather dust on donation shelves and video stores are nearly extinct.

Why all the change? Thanks to advancements in technology and increasingly easy access to the Internet, the era of emerging media has dawned. Constantly evolving, this media phenomenon is simply defined as:

the evolving use of technology and digital content to enhance work, play, and learning, to broaden access to information, and to enrich personal connection by eliminating the constraints of time and location.

So what does that mean for marketers? Today, the way consumers receive and share information is a lot different from what it was ten years ago — it’s instant and more dynamic than ever before. From smart phones to tablets, computers and even wearable technology, consumers are more connected to the Internet — and each other — than ever before. Thus, the ability to receive and share information is literally at the their finger tips.

Think about it, how many mobile devices do you own? How many social platforms like Facebook and Pinterest do you use? How many apps are on your mobile device and how often do you stream videos and search online for information? When marketers gather data on your digital behaviors, it gives them the ability to target you on a personal level. Using information on your web searches, purchasing history and even the content of your email inbox, marketers are finding ways to give you what you want, when you want it.

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The image above is a great summary of how digital media has changed the way people receive and share information over a decade. Although it only spans from 2000-2011, it clearly illustrates the magnitude of emerging media in today’s world.

Likewise, he way information is gathered on consumers is becoming increasingly high-tech. From purchase histories to Web searches and even eye tracking, the way technology is helping marketers gather data on consumer behavior is as insightful as it is creepy (that’s a post for another day).

Needless to say, if your brand is not on the up and up with emerging media, it’s going to miss out on opportunities to connect with customers on a personal level. Having the data and digital outlets necessary to provide the right message at the right time, regardless of location, is priceless.