Bebo, the social networking site aimed at under-16s, has embarked on a media offensive to counteract the backlash against brands using such sites to advertise their products to children.
After hostile national media reports about brands’ online ad strategies, the site has rebuffed claims that its partnership with confectionery brand Skittles is either underhand or deliberately targets children.
The site says the campaign aims to ” foster creativity” and is not “a brand push in the traditional sense”.
Bebo spokeswoman Sarah Gavin admits, however, that the company “walks a fine line” with regard to certain brands’ ad campaigns but is adamant that partnerships with brands such as Skittles are good practice.
Television advertising by food brands high in sugar, salt and fat is now banned under Ofcom rules, but these do not extend to the internet as yet. Food brands’ online strategies are under scrutiny as many appear to be circumnavigating the ban by advertising online, where so many children now spend their time.
Gavin says the campaign’s key target demographic is 15to 16-year-olds and defends the marketing push. “We are completely transparent,” she says. “It is very clear that these types of profiles are sponsored by brands. We work within Ofcom and ASA guidelines and work closely with the Home Office’s internet taskforce for child protection.
“Skittles advertises on TV and children are as exposed to its advertising on that medium as they are on sites such as Bebo, despite the Ofcom rules,” she adds.
This week Skittles launched an exclusive marketing initiative with Bebo. The site says it is a “partnership driven by a digital campaign and designed to foster creativity within its target audience by enabling users to craft their own Skittles cartoon exclusively via Bebo.com”.