The Dos & Don’ts of Advertising to Kids During the Holidays


The holiday season is upon us. Some may think of the bright lights and food. For others, the holidays mean endless shopping and travel logistics. That said, there’s one demographic that has only positive thoughts on the holiday season: kids! And there is one reason why — presents! Companies have found that marketing to kids is an increasingly lucrative endeavor. But there are serious legal and ethical considerations for any brand that communicates with kids. Here are 3 Dos & 2 Don’ts to follow if you are marketing to kids, and an example of one company that is doing it right.

Do: Be COPPA/CCPA Compliant & consult your lawyers

The Children’s Online Protection Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) governs how businesses should legally engage with children online, and if you are thinking of marketing to kids in the United States, you better know this law inside and out. Here are the very basics:

Then there is the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act), the new set of privacy regulations that goes into effect in 2020 for companies doing business in California (which we have written about here). There are new regulations that specifically involve marketing to children, the main points of which are:

  • The age for data consent for minors has risen to 16 years old for California residents.
  • Minors under 16 years of age must opt-in to the sale of their personal information. For children that are under 13, this opt-in needs to be collected from a parent or guardian.

There are other relevant points to know (such as a new definition for ‘personal information’), so it is equally important to be familiar with this law. Not only do you leave yourself open to lawsuits and loss of public trust, but the state of California can also fine you up to $7,500 per infraction.

Don’t: Treat kids like adults

In many ways, treating kids the same as you would treat an adult is a good thing. But you must also acknowledge that children are not the same as adults. They do not have the cognitive development nor the experience to make informed purchasing decisions. According to Jean Piaget’s widely respected theories on cognitive development, children 2-7 are in the “pre-operational stage,” meaning that they “struggle with logic and taking the point of view of other people.” They also tend to take things very literally, so if an advertisement claims that their product will make them the coolest kid in school, they are likely to believe it. Knowing how to create age-appropriate messaging is extremely important.

Do: Be clear you are advertising

There is a reason why during the days of Saturday Morning cartoons, that there were bumpers like “after these messages, we’ll be right back!” in between the show and the commercials. Legally, they had to! In 1974, the FCC released a policy to include this separation that was based on the conclusion that “children ‘cannot distinguish conceptually between programming and advertising.” Distinguishing between these two has become even more difficult as advertisers are becoming more story-driven and interactive. As this Wharton article states, “through kid-friendly online quizzes and multimedia games for touch-screen phones and tablets, marketers are blurring the boundaries between traditional advertising and children’s entertainment.” If you make no effort to inform children that you are advertising to them, your stocking will be filled with more than coal. They will be filled with lawsuits.

Don’t: Give kids purchase power

This should be obvious. Parents hold the purse strings, and should have control over any products and services a child receives. It used to be fairly uncommon for a child under 12 to steal money or credit card information from their parents, but children making their own purchases, without their guardians' knowledge or consent, has become increasingly prevalent. This, of course, is due to the connectivity of bank and credit card information on smart devices, making it as easy for a kid to make a purchase as the touch of a button, or simply saying, “Alexa, buy me 5 golden rings.” Making it easy for children making purchases not only ruins public trust, it may also leave your company open to lawsuits. Do everything you can to prevent child purchasing.

Do: Make your advertising fun and exploratory

Once you have the legal and ethical steps squared away, you must now reach children with messaging that will resonate with them. While traditional advertising, such as commercials, are still widely conducted, online advertising has become an increasingly powerful tool. According to Barbara Kahn, director of the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center at Wharton, “TV is a passive medium. Kids get mesmerized by TV shows, but they’re not engaged. When they are on the Internet playing a game, it’s much more involving. So the effect of the ads is probably greater.” Making your advertising fun, interactive, and exploratory is a great way to reach kids.

How Walmart advertises to kids the right way

Walmart, with interactive content creator, eko, has created the Walmart Toy Lab, an online experience that allows kids to interactively ‘play’ with 40 toys from a tablet or computer. As Ivy Sheibar, chief brand officer of eko, states, “kids have grown accustomed to interacting and playing with technology. KidHQ fulfills these expectations by inviting kids to choose what happens next throughout the experience rather than passively consuming content.”

The site constantly reminds kids that the experience is advertising, and, instead of allowing kids to purchase the products on the platform, they are instructed to have an adult go to the “grown-up” area (complete with age verification). Even at this stage, there is no purchasing. Instead, all of the toys that the child has played with and liked is placed in a wishlist that is sent to the adult’s email address. At that point, it is up to the parent on what to buy.

Walmart has made advertising to kids both fun and safe (both for the kids and, legally, for themselves) in an incredibly successful way. Part of this success lies in their organization of data to ensure a child’s privacy and a parent’s inclusion. One option for brands looking to put customer privacy at the forefront is Lineate’s Consent Manager. Specifically, Consent Manager “allows brands to give customers access to their data while providing a central way of managing, tracking, and optimizing for consent collection on an operational level.” In the case of marketing to children, it means another way of doing your due diligence by offering a simple way of capturing consent for anybody 16 and under.

To learn more about Consent Manager, please schedule a free evaluation with our SA team.


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