Academic warns online marketing for children “almost impossible” to police

Digital marketing could prove “almost impossible” to police, especially around content for young children, according to a top marketing academic.

Agnes Nairn, professor of marketing at two of Europe’s leading Business Schools, EM-Lyon Business School in France and RSM Erasmus University in the Netherlands, said the digital age has created a number of grey areas in terms of marketing to children.

She said that reviews of the marketing codes – including CAP and BCAP – were underway but she wasn’t hopeful of the holes being plugged.

“There are a number of different bodies that regulate different elements of marketing, but digital marketing is a big gap. The ASA has a digital marketing group that’s been looking into the issue for two years now, and not come up with anything yet. They need to get on with it, but [digital marketing] is almost impossible to police.”

The European Advertising Standards Alliance has published a best practice guideline which Nairn views as “relatively sensible but not really comprehensive enough”.

Dr Nairn’s comments come in a week which has seen the spotlight turned on the advertising industry and its influence on children.

Yesterday, David Cameron spoke out, urging marketers, advertisers and shops to “show more restraint in the way they operate” when marketing to children, or face further regulation.

A cross-party Health Committee also highlighted flaws within advertising regulations last week in relation to the promotion of alcohol. The expansion of non-broadcast advertising through social networking sites and viral marketing was identified as a particular issue. Age controls on websites, for example, are viewed as “inadequate”.

Commenting on the report, Dominic Sparkes, managing director at social media management Tempero said: “Blanket bans on alcohol advertising on social networks is not an all encompassing solution as online advertising is becoming more interactive than traditional display – where would brand pages, games, and rich-media content fall within the ban?

“The Byron report found that in 2006 the ASA was unable to investigate 90% of the 2,000 plus complaints it received relating to online advertising as they were outside its remit. Online advertising needs to be redefined before it can be more tightly regulated.”

The ASA says the UK’s advertising regulatory regime for alcohol is one of the strictest in the world. And reacting to Cameron’s speech, a spokesperson says: “The protection of children sits at the heart of the advertising self-regulatory system: industry creates stringent rules and the ASA robustly and effectively administers them in order to ensure advertising to children is responsible.”

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