Marketing to pre-teens is a growing business for big players in tech
Published 04/11/2016 | 02:30
It will come as no surprise that some are trying sneaky advertising tricks to reach kids through online means.
But don't be under any illusion: marketing to pre-teens is a growing business for some of the biggest players in technology.
Take Musical.ly, one of the fastest growing social networks you probably haven't heard of yet.
With 120 million users, including tens of thousands in Ireland, it is overwhelmingly favoured by kids under 14, and it has become a magnet for entertainment companies selling new artists or singers trying to plug products.
"I know that there's a sweet spot in the demographics for the app," said Ayal Kleinman, marketing boss at Warner Bros Records, in a recent interview. "And it's definitely younger kids."
Then there is Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat. Stars like UK-based video blogger Zoella command huge fees for plugging products in their own 'native' way.
But at least those are still 'passively' consumed ads in videos. From a technical perspective, it could be about to get a lot trickier.
Advertising budgets are moving heavily into online platforms, partly because of the accuracy with which marketers can target specific groups and demographics, including kids.
For example, on Facebook I can target my ad so that only young females who live in Dublin and have certain preferences will see it.
Granted, I can't look for them to be eight years of age, but that brings up another of the industry's biggest challenges: verification.
Many online services stipulate an age of over 13 as a joining pre-requisite. But there are no effective controls. So companies can target kids on such services without technically breaking any rules.
The thing is that a lot of marketing techniques are illegal (or are about to be made illegal) when applied to children. For instance, companies can no longer track children around the internet in the same way they legally track adults. Doing so attracts big fines, as toy companies Mattel, Hasbro and two others recently discovered when they were collectively fined almost €800,000 in the US for ad-related monitoring of kids' online behaviour.
In Europe, similar laws are about to be tightened under new EU regulations.
This makes eminent sense. It's one thing to fire ads, offers and other inducements at adults, but targeting eight-year-olds on screens their parents aren't monitoring feels more than a little heavy-handed. We don't need e-commerce quite that much.