Sneaky Ways Advertisers Target Kids

By Caroline Knorr for
April 28, 2010 

You might think you're hip to the tricks that advertisers use to reach kids online. You've seen the ads that play before online games. You know about the flashing banner ads, the contests, the sweepstakes, and even the sponsored Google links that match your search terms. But as technology advances -- and kids gravitate toward new programs and digital devices -- advertisers have found sneakier ways to capture kids' attention.
So how are your kids being targeted? 
1. Kim Kardashian. Tweets from reality TV stars, musicians, and other celebs can earn them $10,000. That's right, the rich and famous are cashing in on their Twitter fans by tweeting about how much they love a certain product. And unlike sponsored Twitter ads, these celeb tweets are not labeled "Ad."
2. XOXO Gossip Girl Calling. For teens who can't live without news of Gossip Girl, no problem. Sign up for the show's mobile alerts and get the latest news from the show -- as well as ads from all the companies who've bought your kids’ information when they signed up.
3. It's Magically Delicious! Did you see that cool video on YouTube? The one starring a leprechaun named Lucky? Lucky Charms has a series of webisodes starring its famous animated spokesperson. These animated videos are also featured on the Lucky Charms website, as is a massive interactive world that plugs Lucky Charms cereal at every opportunity.
4. Playing With Food. Like Lucky Charms, ads disguised as games are rampant on the web. Millsberry -- a popular kids' website -- plants General Mills products throughout its virtual world. And if you think watching commercials is persuasive, play an hour of Honey Nut Honey Defender and you might get a little hungry.
5. Be Careful What You LikeFacebook's viral nature plays right into teens' desire for social acceptance. Take Flixster, a social networking and film buff site that matches your movie preferences with flicks you might like (that's advertising). Another feature tracks things you've marked "Like" either on Facebook or on its partner sites, and will recommend more things you might “Like” -- including products to buy.
What You Can Do
Advertisers know that the earlier a child learns about a brand, the more likely they will be to buy it later (or beg their parents to buy it). And children under 7 can’t tell the difference between advertising and entertainment. Helping kids understand how advertising works can help protect them from being exploited. (Visit Admongo, the FTC's ad-education site, for more ways to help kids get ad-savvy.)
Also, talk to your kid about protecting his or her online privacy. Kids give advertisers lots of information just by downloading an app or clicking on a sweepstakes. Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare are conjuring up ways to make money off the behavioral data they can collect on kids. While you can't protect your kid from preying advertisers entirely, you can help them limit their privacy vulnerabilities -- and cultivate a healthy sense of skepticism toward advertising.


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