Advertising to kids isn’t child’s play

Banner ads, mobile ads, viral marketing, social media marketing and ads in games are just some of the many forms that advertising takes. When kids see a standard interstitial TV ad during a commercial break, the line between the program and the advertisement is obvious. But as advertising takes on new forms and moves to new delivery channels, the distinction between entertainment and advertising is increasingly blurred. As a result, there are both new opportunities and new complexities for advertisers and publishers.

Growing media and advertising exposure 

Much of the research on digital media’s impact on children has focused on the amount of media that kids consume. For example, the average American teen consumes an average of nine hours of media daily (not including for school or homework), according to a 2015 study by Common Sense Media. Tweens (8-12-year-olds) consume about six hours of entertainment media daily. Television is still the greatest source of media exposure for children in all age groups although, the older kids get, the more their media usage shifts to activities beyond TV. 

In the area of video, there has been a shift away from viewing content during scheduled linear TV programming to ‘anytime TV’ viewing, thanks to digital video recorders (DVR), cable on-demand, and video streaming to PCs and mobile devices. According to Nielsen’s Total Audience Report: Q1 2015, kids 2-11 spend an average of 22.2 hours a week watching traditional TV; 2.5 hours watching time-shifted TV, 2.0 hours using a DVD device, 2.9 hours using a game console, and 1.1 hours on a multimedia device (Apple TV, computer, smartphone, etc. connected to a TV). Regardless of where and when kids are consuming media, they are being exposed to advertising on a non-stop basis.

Advertising takes many forms

According to Common Sense Media, online advertising is a ‘game changer’ for several reasons: it’s interactive, meaning kids can actively engage with the brand; it’s often ‘immersive’ where the child is in a fully branded environment (such as the website); and it can be more highly targeted based on data about the child’s location and interests.

Embedded advertising is a term used to describe several types of brand placement, including product placement (displaying a branded product in a show) and product integration (incorporating the product into the dialog of a show or in a game). Whenever you see a soft drink or another brand in a show, it’s safe to guess it’s not there by accident. This type of advertising has become more popular because time-shifting viewers can’t skip past it by fast forwarding.

oreo arcade ()

Cross promotional advertising ties products, such as toys or food, to popular characters from movies, cartoons, TV programs, games, etc. Movie character-themed toys in a McDonald’s Happy Meal were an earlier version of cross promotion familiar to many children. But now kids are exposed to more sophisticated sponsorships like Advergames, which companies create for the specific purpose of promoting a brand. If you’re not familiar with this type of advertising, check out the Oreo Arcade

Many large national consumer brands have branded websites that are either targeted directly to children or that include elements that appeal to children. The sites typically contain videos, contests, games, or other opportunities to interact with the brand (such as McDonald’s website). Youth-targeted branded sites often contain viral marketing that encourages kids to send advertiser-branded content to their friends. It’s also common for these sites to include online versions of their TV ads (like on; downloadable branded items like screen savers or posters; and premium offers designed to promote purchases. 

happy meal ()

Ads can be viral

Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are also another obvious channel for brands to reach the youth market. This outreach can take the form of ad placements, profile pages for the company and the brand, and embedding promotional content into blog posts, tweets, or other easily shareable content. Nickelodeon’s Facebook page has over 26m likes and their Twitter feed has close to 4m followers.

nicko ()

Part of what makes social media such a powerful channel, is the ability to target users based on their demographics and activity on those sites. Encouraging kids to generate their own advertiser-branded content (e.g., through uploading video or comments) helps sites engage their audience and can have a powerful viral effect when it’s shared with friends or posted on other sites, like YouTube.

pepsi ()

Mobile phones are yet another opportunity for advertisers to reach young people and the trend is toward children getting phones at a younger age. In fact, a new study by found that 53 per cent of kids have a cell phone by age 6 (cellular carrier family plans are making it less costly to put phones in kids’ hands). Mirroring advertising on standard websites, mobile ads can take the form of paid ads, embedded content, branded apps and games. For example, the Pepsi Pass app lets you earn rewards points by interacting with friends who also have the app and by capturing codes from specially marked Pepsi products. One of the most promising things about mobile advertising is the ability to target an audience based on their geographic location (like sending ads to kids when they’re located near a Burger King).

How to do it right

Television advertising to kids is guided by federal regulation and by self-regulating industry councils. Online adverting is more complex to monitor because it takes so many forms and because the interactive nature introduces potential concerns around privacy. In 1998, the FTC passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).  Then, in 2013 Congress expanded the definition of personal information for children under 13 and also extended the ban on collecting children’s information without parental consent to include ad networks and social plug-ins.

It’s an exciting time for publishers and advertisers who want to use new media channels to reach a youth audience. Those who embrace emerging technologies, but also take the time to understand the implications and ethics of advertising to children, can create new and productive relationships with this important consumer group.

More like this

Mobile advertising has a measurement problem

Understanding performance metrics in the digital advertising world

Future of digital advertising: consumers and advertisers need a new deal

Future trends in native advertising

Your first step to joining FIPP's global community of media leaders

Sign up to FIPP World x