Last week my four-year-old son took me into the new ‘Wall’s sausages’ Website, told me that he wanted sausages for tea and instructed me to click on the “Thomas” icon situated on the site, so that we could see which engines were in the shed – a trick gleaned after spending an afternoon with his cyber mad granddad.
Is this what futurologist Watts Wacker meant when he said that for the first time in history, kids know things that their parents don’t – but wish they did?
Today, based on our own European research, almost half of UK children have access to a computer at home and one in ten already tap onto the Net at home. Almost all gain access at school, where it has become part of the curriculum. The picture’s similar across Europe.
Undoubtedly, the moral panic surrounding pornography and other pernicious influences has scared off parents and advertisers. But recent developments in ratings systems and filtering software packages such as Netnanny have gone a long way in quelling concerns (though, for the time being, responsibility remains with parents to monitor their children’s consumption of the Web – just as they do for terrestrial, satellite, or cable TV).
In terms of rules of conduct, we are not regulated in the same formal way that our TV business is, but recognise that for this particular industry to grow, advertisers must be responsible, hence we stick as closely as possible to promotional guidelines on children’s marketing.
While the Web is still in its infancy, the smart children’s advertiser is now recognising that, by getting into the Web now, it is stealing a march on rivals by exploring avenues of interactivity and learning the most effective ways to work in the digital era.
Sixteen out of the top 20 children’s advertisers presently have their own Websites and have seen the benefits of being entertaining while presenting information about their products.
And there is a queue of other advertisers expressing interest in moving online to help reinforce and extend existing promotional activities targeting parents and children in the traditional media. This interest is across the board, from packaged goods to computers.
There’s little doubt that there are rewards to be reaped for those content providers which succeed in developing a children’s audience on the Net.