Marketing to children is a growing part of emerging media strategies. Young children—once an illusive audience for marketers—are becoming regular targets through online games and entertainment. Gone are the days when brands could only reach young children through cereal boxes and Saturday morning commercials. Now they lead them to websites to watch videos and play games with all kinds of brand impressions.
The rapid rate of children’s marketing warrants a look at the ethical components of these tactics. Online games, no matter how ethical the content, may contribute to sedentary behavior amongst a growing population of obese children. Some marketers create games that include active participation, including partnerships with Wii, but they are the minority. Future attempts to create active games may depend upon parents and advocacy groups pressuring marketers to provide healthier online options. Currently, many parents seem content to let media and marketers decide what’s best for their children. Don’t expect this to be a long-term trend.
Marketing to children isn’t a new concern for advocacy groups. In an article published In 2000, Rebecca Clay writes about the impact of advertising on children’s materialistic values. She points to psychologist Allen D. Kanner, PhD, who describes the “narcissistic wounding” of children—where advertising convinces children they are inferior if they don’t have enough new products.
So what’s a marketer to do? If you want to build authentic relationships and long-term trust with children, follow some old advice. When reaching children, frame the message in a way that speaks to both children and parents. After all, parents ultimately pay for the purchase. The key to keeping your tactics ethical is obtain parental consent.