When advertising a product or service it is important to be careful, to avoid causing offence through a marketing campaign that could be seen as sexist, racist or even too suggestive.

Child at keyboardCommercials surround us; business owners use a number of ways to communicate messages including SMS marketing campaigns that ping directly to our phone; and we can’t turn on the TV, drive down the street or open a magazine without coming face-to-face with some form of advertising. However, these commercials are so widespread there is an ever increasing risk of children viewing harmful or inappropriate material. For example, sexualized imagery placed on billboards may have maximum impact when trying to reach the target adult audience, but children are just as likely to see the billboards and therefore images should be used accordingly.

Alongside coming in to contact with adverts that are not aimed at them, children are consumers themselves and certain advertisements are directed at them specifically. Ads for children encourage ‘pester power’ – kids asking their parents to buy it for them as they don’t have the money to buy it for themselves.

When this advertising is geared toward children, there is a whole lot more to consider than there is when marketing for adults. The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) is in place to ensure the ads targeted at or likely to be seen by children are appropriate and do not cause them harm. They will ban any ad that could result in a child’s physical, mental or moral harm and the guidelines are becoming increasingly robust.

As children are naïve and lack the experience of adults to engage, critically assess and cope with commercial images and messages, strict rules are put in place for children’s advertising,  If as adults and parents we see something that concerns us, we should always report it.

The ASA carried out research that revealed 30% of young people (11-16) had been bothered by an ad in the 12 months previous – with violent and sexual content, body image and charity ads causing the most distress.

Some believe advertising towards children should be banned altogether, particularly as techniques that have been designed to manipulate adult emotions are often used. We have a social responsibility when marketing towards children, and as such the rules have been tightened over the years due to a suggestion that advertising plays a role in unhealthy diets and underage drinking.

There is currently a debate around the need to tighten up rules on how food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar are marketed to children. The Committee of Advertising Practice are evaluating whether there should be a complete ban on advertising junk food online, in press, on billboards and posters.

Advertising is everywhere, but kids are primarily being targeted via the internet since the rise of social media. The Advertising Standards Authority said internet advertising overtook TV advertising as the most complained about media in the UK, for the first time last year. In 2014 there were 13,477 complaints about 10,202 digital ads in the UK.

It would be impossible to avoid children coming into contact with advertising, but ultimately what needs to happen is for kids to be educated on the subject. There is work happening towards this. The Internet Advertising Bureau recently released an animated film for youths called ‘What Does That Ad Say?’ in conjunction with Media Smart for Safer Internet Day.

If you are reading this article as a business owner wanting to maximize promotional campaigns, don’t forget to don your adult / parent hat when reviewing the suggested marketing programme to ensure it not only meets your business needs but is also ethical and responsible, particularly in relation to children.

Article by Patrick Vernon on behalf of GlobalMessaging