Tech viewpoint on advertising to children
A view from Ian Barber

Tech viewpoint on advertising to children

If you ask politicians what worries them about our industry, eight out of ten would give the same answer: how advertisers talk to kids. Many think advertising shouldn't target them at all.

Sprinkle in the average politician's knowledge of our business, add deep-rooted fears about children and "the internet", and you have a toxic mix.

That explains why, with every new government, we face a new inquiry. Months after David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s rose garden tryst, Reg Bailey was asked to "crack down on irresponsible and reckless marketing to children". Advertising received a (mostly) clean bill of health, but concerns about digital lingered.

So any data on kids, technology and media use is required reading at the Advertising Association, not least last week’s Ofcom survey on children’s media habits. Let’s gloss over the fact that it doesn’t like the ads – no surprise given that, overwhelmingly, we make them for grown-ups. More revealing is how quickly children are learning about advertising. Fifty-six per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds are now aware of behavioural ads, well up on last year – and critical awareness of advertising online is growing.

That’s good news. Because whatever your views are on advertising to kids, everyone can agree that the more young people understand how advertising works and the more critical they can be of it, the less likely it is to exploit.

'Most parents regard advertising as something that children need to learn about. It's part of life'

Research from Credos shows that most parents regard advertising as something that children need to learn about. It’s part of life, part of the process of growing up. Forty-three per cent think it’s the family’s responsibility to "protect" children from ads – twice the number who think it’s the Government’s job and three times the number who think advertisers are responsible.

But they want help – especially when it comes to technology. Enter Media Smart. Funded by our industry, Media Smart puts free educational materials into classrooms, teaching children to think critically about advertising in their daily lives. Since 2002, the materials have been used in more than 12,000 schools in the UK.

This year, the AA was asked to step it up. We’ve expanded its supporter base, widened its remit to include older kids and are bringing its resources into the mobile, digital age. New materials are planned on social, in-game ads, apps, cookies and privacy. The Government loves it, even our critics applaud it and, most importantly, teachers and parents do too.

The AA argues that advertising to children can be positive, responsible and beneficial. For that argument to remain credible as technology drives our activities towards ever-greater levels of sophistication, we need to think as hard about how we equip kids to understand advertising as we do about the ads themselves.

Ian Barber is the communications director at the Advertising Association