In June of 2017, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), an independent organization responsible for British advertising standards, released new rules banning the advertising of high-fat, -salt, or -sugar food or drink products in media targeted at those under the age of 16. It was the latest addition to an evolving body of guidelines aimed at protecting impressionable young minds.
With the rise of new platforms, media habits and advertising, tactics are changing. But for companies that want to market to children effectively and responsibly, two considerations must remain top of mind: Content must be age-appropriate and not misleading.
“Children can’t accurately differentiate—and don’t have a clear perception—of what advertising is,” explained Alison Eyles-Owen, Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ Global Consumer Goods Expert. “From their perspective, it’s just fun information or engaging cartoons. They don’t know what is being pushed to them in a selling capacity and what is just there to educate or entertain.”
Even young teens can have trouble determining the difference. Ofcom, a communications regulator in the UK, released a report noting that only 34 percent of 12-15-year-olds are able to recognize sponsored ad posts on Google searches.
To encourage transparent and ethical advertising, groups like CAP provide guidance on what is and isn’t acceptable when marketing to kids. Given the global obesity epidemic, brands are under particular pressure to promote healthy messages when it comes to marketing food and drinks.
While following industry guidelines is a good first step toward establishing a solid strategy for marketing to children, the smartest brands take their impact on children and families to heart.
Only a few years ago drink brands targeting young audiences, such as Capri-Sun or Ribena, would actively direct their communications toward children with initiatives such as TV show partnerships, online game collaborations, and numerous competitions to drive direct engagement with children, reflected Eyles-Owen. However, more recently, as they seek to promote healthier product recipes with phrases like “no added sugar” or only natural ingredients, they have moved away from this kind of activity to focus on reaching parents with nutrition-led messaging through initiatives based on living healthy, active lives. They may be a little late to the party than other categories, but this change in approach is certainly noticeable and is supported by several credible influencers.
How can other brands find similar success as they develop marketing campaigns and digital content for their youngest audiences? Here, Eyles-Owen shares four tips for marketers:
- Be clear on your brand’s purpose. The savviest brands are thoughtful about how their purpose will inform their communications choices. Defining your core principles can help determine the marketing activities you ultimately execute.
- Be transparent. Whether you’re touting the benefits of a product or discussing the results of a recent survey, be careful to never mislead. Marketers are good at using emotional triggers to get a point across. While that may be effective for adult audiences, it’s risky and inappropriate to use the same tactic with children.
- Be smart about product placement. Where do you want your product to be visible? Whether it’s television or social media, it’s important to do the homework to make sure you pick the most appropriate media platforms for you and your audience. Ask yourself, “Do we really have the right to ‘play’ there?”
- Be aware of local regulations. It’s important to be sensitive to local market norms and needs. Be mindful of how the legal implications of your marketing efforts can vary across regions, especially if you’re a global brand. Many countries rely on self-regulation so it’s important to operate in a manner that is ethically and morally right for your brand.