Devious Child Marketing Strategies Every Parent Needs To Know

Young people face a barrage of marketing influences every day [1, 4] with the Internet now a routine part of everyday life [3, 5]. Marketers and advertisers, keen to foster brand loyalty with children from a young age [3], are investing in an array of digital media to reach and persuade this audience, including online videos, advergames, branded websites, social media marketing, viral marketing, and mobile advertising [2]. However, repeated studies demonstrate that children, especially young children, cannot always identify advertising messages when they appear within highly immersive online media or understand their persuasive intent [1, 2]. This article will examine some of the most popular marketing strategies that a child may encounter in the digital world and outlines steps parents can take to empower children to be more aware of online advertising.

What are the child marketing strategies I need to know about?

Advertising can exert a powerful influence on young people for a number of reasons [5]. First, it is pervasive on the Internet, including social media platforms and online games where they typically spend a significant amount of time [2]. Nine in ten Australian teens [8] and one-third of preschoolers [9] own Internet-connected smartphones [7], with some experts estimating that children encounter an average of 3,000 online and offline advertisements per day [10]. Second, many online advertising strategies offer an interactive, immersive experience where children become engrossed in a fully branded environment or actively engage with a brand [6], maximising their exposure to implicit messages and values that reinforce a future purchase decision [3]. Finally, online advertising can be highly personalised, based on an individual’s specific interests, location and demographic characteristics [7], and may leverage peer influence or use online role models that the child trusts [2].

Ultimately, these factors make online advertising a persuasive influence on young people’s beliefs, choices and purchasing habits. To help parents and children recognise these child marketing strategies when they encounter them online, here are some of the specific forms that online advertising can take.

#1 Online product placements

Online product placements, designed to sell a certain product such as a toy or sugary drink, are often embedded in online videos and webisodes on social media platforms popular with children such as YouTube [2]. This type of advertising can be very effective with children because they seek videos for entertainment and view YouTube channels and role models as trustworthy [6]. Often, online product placements are subtle with a branded product displayed in the background but left unmentioned in the video. However, sometimes the product placement is incorporated directly into the dialogue or plot of a video or webisode [2]. Many studies indicate that children and teens do not always discern the embedded advertising in these contexts [2].

 #2 Branded websites 

Many businesses create immersive branded websites to attract children or teens to visit or provide personal information that can be used to remarket to them [2]. These websites, promoted through online advertisements and product packaging, often include elements such as contests, videos, giveaways, and downloadable branded products that encourage future affiliation with a brand or word-of-mouth sharing with friends [2]. One example of a branded website targeting children includes Google Santa Tracker, an annual Christmas-themed entertainment program which promotes educational resources such as Khan Academy. While this website is socially conscious and emphasises education with entertainment, it is important to recognise that it contains subtle promotions for Google’s own products, including Google Home and Google Maps. Helping children recognise these subtle product placements in their favourite media can help them become more cognizant of advertising’s subconscious effects.

#3 Advergames 

Typically found on branded websites, advergames are games created by a business for the purpose of promoting one or more of its brands [2]. This may include video games and interactive puzzles or quizzes designed to resonate with a specific interest [3]. By creating an immersive, positive experience, advergames encourage children to adopt a favourable attitude toward a brand while passively exposing them to brand messages [2]. Several studies highlight the fact that, without advertising literacy education, three-quarters of young people will not recognise advergames as a type of advertising [11] or perceive the commercial motives behind the entertainment [3].

#4 Social media marketing 

Social media marketing can range from easy-to-identify image advertisements placed on social media where young people have a strong presence such as Instagram and Snapchat [6] to low-key promotional content embedded into an image, post or video [2, 6]. Social media allows marketers to build partnerships with celebrities trusted by young people, such as YouTube role models, to reach greater audiences and increase the likelihood that a child will want to purchase the product [7].

#5 Viral marketing

Viral marketing campaigns attempt to drive traffic to a business’ branded website or social media platform by encouraging children to spread the word among peers, thus increasing the chance that other children will perceive these brand messages as trustworthy [5]. This may include a call to action encouraging a child to challenge a friend to play an advergame or to invite a friend to participate in a contest on a website [2]. Since social recommendations add credibility to an advertising message and children highly value their peers’ perceptions of them, viral marketing can be highly effective at persuading this age group [10].

#6 Mobile advertising

Mobile advertising comes in a diversity of forms, including banner ads, branded apps and in-app advertising [2]. Advertisers can target young people with interactive mobile content by leveraging the location and behavioural data they collect from tracking a user’s behaviour over time [2]. For example, a mobile app for a toy store may push notifications about a sale when a child comes in proximity to a store [3].

Steps to help protect your child from digital marketing

Helping children and teens understand how marketing and advertising work can equip them with knowledge and resources so they can spot and think critically about advertising. Here are two key steps.

#1 Talk to your child about protecting their online privacy

Children often unintentionally provide advertisers with a wealth of information, simply by downloading an app, sharing personal information when signing up, or browsing online [2]. Encourage your child to adopt strategies to protect their personal information online. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Using strict privacy settings in apps and browsers
  • Turning off location services on a smartphone
  • Preventing apps from sharing data with other apps
  • Setting social media privacy settings to strong
  • Making sure everyone in your family understands the importance of sharing social media posts with care

#2 Encourage critical thinking about advertising

As your child grows older, encourage them to think critically about all information, images and videos they encounter online [1]. Ask them to think about the content’s creator and what their goals might be [4]. Since advertising is often disguised in the form of other content [2], this healthy scepticism will help them begin to recognise that all media includes inherent biases, and sometimes these biases may be designed to make them loyal to or purchase from a particular brand [6].

Final thoughts

From advergames and online product placements to branded websites, social media marketing, viral marketing and mobile advertising, many types of child marketing strategies leverage digital technology. While it’s impossible to protect your child from online advertising completely, parents can educate children about the variety of online advertising strategies, help them limit their privacy vulnerabilities and encourage them to cultivate a healthy scepticism toward advertising messages.



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