Advertisers let children slip through Net

Children are most likely to be receptive to ad campaigns and more of them than ever are going online.

A recent report from the US says that about 40 per cent of parents deny their children internet access as a form of punishment. Only in America? Absolutely not. Internet usage among children is one of the Web’s fastest-growing areas, with over 5 million children now going online regularly in the UK. Imposing a ban on internet access at home is likely to cause as many tantrums as switching off the television.

Internet connections are 22 per cent higher in households with children than those occupied by adults alone, and a family set-up is 15 per cent more likely to have a broadband connection. However, the shift towards greater digital media consumption is not yet reflected in the balance of marketing by brands targeting children.

The internet’s share of advertising spend for toy retailers still sits way below the three per cent of all media committed to digital. Not only is this missing out on potentially more cost-effective media coverage than traditional media, but also advertisers are forgoing the benefit of interactivity, which is especially key for this market. Of all demographic groups, children are likely to be the most receptive while engaging with a brand online and subconsciously approving of it, if correctly targeted.

The growth of children’s internet usage has, to some extent, come at the expense of traditional media – but not entirely. The popularity of sites like Yahooligans, cartoonnetwork.co.uk and even Google among children has resulted in them consuming more media than ever before, and often many media at the same time.

Sales of established comics like The Beano and Dandy might be on the slide, but this trend is as much driven by the vast array of modern titles available as by the internet. Children’s satellite TV channels continue to perform well and children will always love telly. The point is: they can enjoy each of these forms of entertainment online – cartoons, games, TV shows, comic strips, educational content – and as broadband penetration grows, children’s internet usage will continue to increase further.

Children offer such great influence in the marketing process that they will always be an important target market for advertisers. Perhaps concerns around chat rooms and online security have contributed to a slowdown in spend in the online children’s sector and steps need to be taken, as in the US, to make clear the differences between advertising and content.

If there is cause for concern with online marketing targeting children, it has to be around mobile devices such as phones, games consoles and music players. These devices mean content is far more likely to be both unsolicited and received without parents’ knowledge. About 30 per cent of primary school children now own a mobile phone; unless strict parameters blocking inappropriate advertising to children are enforced, the confiscation of the mobile phone could prompt the greatest sulk of them all.

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