Advertising to children can feel a bit like a minefield, and for those not well versed in marketing ethics; this can make the process all the more difficult. But safely and ethically advertising to children, particularly online is a difficult process and difficult subject. It can also have huge payoffs in terms of brand loyalty and business reputation. Kids are also simply a difficult demographic to market to, mainly because of the consistently shifting public opinion that marketing towards children has solely negative effects beyond the capital benefits. Nonetheless, children are an essential demographic for many companies and markets; the solution is to discover a way to market ethically to this demographic.
Often when we think of marketing to children, we’ll think of things like predatory fast food and entertainment companies looking for an easy dollar. This isn’t always the case, however. Many companies outright refuse to market to child demographics whatsoever in order to avoid this ethical quandary. Many marijuana, alcohol, or tobacco companies outright do not market to these youth markets. This can have a best practice effect of making said brands seem more trustworthy and as if they are protecting youth through this marketing abstinence.
For some businesses; it is of course valid to try to capture the youth demographic. Clark Stacey, the CEO of WildWorks; spent years finding ways to ethically market and safely create online worlds for children. WildWorks’ main product, Animal Jam is a social network for children in the U.S. It has to consistently monitor itself to ensure the games marketing materials and overall content are safe, age-appropriate and ethical to the marketed demographic. Here are a few different, recommended strategies which you or your business can use to safely, ethically market towards children.
Parents should be informed of your products, services, safety features, and how their children will be using these things. Transparency is critical with these messages, you should be open and honest in your marketing. Additionally, its a great idea to instruct children watching your advertisement to ask about your product. This allows parents to research your product, and make an informed decision about this purchase for their child.
Involving, original content is a great want to capture youth audiences. Consider sites such as Youtube, TikTok and other platforms aimed at younger demographics. One great method is to create edutainment content, incorporating science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. You can even offer library memberships or free ebooks to your demographics. Brand content is your sole responsibility, and making engaging, entertaining, and educative content is a great way to ethically market to children.
Before even advertising your product, your company should make it a goal that it is safe for your consumer. You need to ensure that any product or service designed for use by a child needs to be safely vetted for any possible dangers it could pose to the child. You also need to ensure the data or information you collect on youth demographics is secured from things such as hackers or data breaches. Data breaches can be a black mark on any company reputation, but the leak of such a vulnerable demographic is especially worrisome.
One unethical method some companies have used in the past is to trick youth demographics or children. This can be done in a number of ways; with some of the most prominent occurring on mobile devices or lines. One example could be tablet or phone apps enticing children to spend additional money on an app in order to unlock extra features. Additionally, ads may be placed in-game that can incur fees or generate revenue for anyone who clicks it. This can be incredibly damaging to a corporation’s reputation, and is generally a bad thing to do. When creating an ad or a feature for a childs app, ask yourself; ‘will the revenue this generates be ethical? Am I coercing my consumer into making an “unconscious” purchase?’
When you advertise to children, you’re also advertising to the next generation of adults. You want to create demographics of trusting, informed consumers which will help your brand grow in a symbiotic relationship of mutual respect. Do your part to not only protect your youth demographics, but to educate them on things such as truth in advertising, unethical company ethics, and any other positive message or tip you want to impart on your youth demographic.
Of course, this list is not exhaustive. Given the variety of factors, industries, and business types which need to advertise; there’s no definitive method for advertising to youth markets. But overall, as long as your advertisements are honest, informative, and not trying to trick your market; you’re likely not crossing the line.