Social Media

Hide Your Kids: The Social Media Marketers are Coming

One of my pet peeves is the amount and type of advertising targeting children.

Specifically, the ads promoting products that negatively affect their health, such as those promoting junk food (and fast food).

I take offense when I see pieces of the marketing campaigns for obvious junk food items (we don’t have a TV, so it’s not often). Soda is the easy target here, and I’d lump the so-called ‘energy’ drinks in there as well.

<rant>That stuff is just junk. Seriously. It’s bubbly water, with artificial colors and flavors, maybe some caffeine for an upper, lots of high fructose corn syrup, and a fancy label. I don’t drink it, and we don’t allow our kids to drink the so-called ‘natural’ sodas except for once in a blue moon. That’s just how we roll. I think it’s a waste of money and can only have a negative health effect on the body, especially growing kid’s bodies. </end of rant>

But at least the commercials and ads in traditional media look like ads, and – aside from product placement in movies and TV – are fairly above board. You know it’s an ad or a marketing campaign.

[I won’t get into the subject here of the subtle (and not so subtle) self-esteem issues kids get from being bombarded with traditional media (TV) commercials about other products – you know, the ones with the shiny happy people, the haves to our have-nots – which begins the cycle of longing for material goods (for more STUFF) so prevalent in our culture.]

With many new media campaigns embracing social media marketing, not just display ads (banners), sometimes you aren’t even aware you’re being sold to – you think you’re having a conversation, but it might be a sponsored one, with money behind the message.

I use my social media network to share information, to have conversations, to collaborate, to get feedback, and I’ve even been the focus of a social media fundraising campaign. And when I choose who to include in my network, I screen people based on their usual stream (Is it helpful or interesting to me? Or is it just selling to at me, over and over?). Once in my network, I then come to trust those people, and I don’t expect them to try to sell me something.

So when I read about the latest social media influencing schemes targeting kids, I had a very mixed reaction. The piece talked about two companies, one of which was promoting music/artists/bands, and the other, which promoted stuff. You know, Coca-Cola, Nintendo, a Barbie mp3 player… stuff.

I think marketing music and artists with social media is already pretty powerful, and it has certainly changed the music industry, so engaging more people in those campaigns is alright in my book. But the people being compensated (with gift cards, freebies, etc.) are kids. And I have issues with brands employing kids. Period.

The other company mentioned in the article is employing kids to push stuff like Coke, but to do it subtly – by inserting references to the products in their conversations and interactions on social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo.

The problem I have, setting aside the issue of using kids to do this, is that kids usually have a smaller network, made up of people they already know. And now they are selling to their friends.

That’s a lot different than most adults, who may connect with a large network of people they’ve never met, but who also have the maturity and experience to determine who to trust and who is full of shit.

The ‘brand ambassadors’ and ‘street teams’ made up of kids are being paid (compensated, anyway) to promote brands within their circle of friends, on the networks they use for digital socializing, and I don’t think it’s a good idea. Maybe it’s a great idea for marketing, but for parents? Not so much. Isn’t enough that just about everywhere kids look, from schools to sporting events, they are bombarded with ‘brand’ messages? Now they will have to be on guard for marketing from their friends?

“children should promote “key campaign messages to friends, both on and offline” by posting comments on message boards, through instant messaging, such as MSN, and by hosting parties where product samples are distributed.

They should prepare their product pitch by “thinking deeply about how you would describe it to your best friend … Write down the key points in your own words and make sure it doesn’t sound too rehearsed. Be natural; be you”.” – Times


One of the companies responded to the piece on their site to make sure people know that kids under 16 need verbal consent from their parents to participate, and that:

“we do not pay people aged 12 to “say stuff online about sweets”, but we will send as much cool stuff out to our Insiders as brands will allow – as long as these are suitable and do not contravene any regulations, guidelines or good old fashioned common sense. Everyone under the age of 16 who applies to the Insider scheme must have the explicit consent of their parents.”

They say that kids only promote the brands they like, so they aren’t being coerced into endorsing things they don’t like. OK, kids get free schwag to talk about products to their friends. Peer endorsement is what we’re talking about. But sodas are still junk food (see above).

And they want “young people aged 7 – 24” to join their “youth panel”. I understand that companies need this information to sell more stuff, but 7?

Seriously? Seven years old? You’re going to use other seven year-olds to influence my seven year old with social media?

Tell me what you think: Should kids be involved in these types of social media marketing schemes, either selling or being sold to?

As far as I’m concerned, this type of scheme should only start at age 16, maybe even 18. Just like a job.

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

5 thoughts on “Hide Your Kids: The Social Media Marketers are Coming

  • I’m all for 20 being the age where adulthood is proclaimed. Rights given. After having a couple of years of being out of high school first. Spending the last two years of your teens bicycling around or bussing, until you get your license or right to join the service, if you wish. Of course, legal drinking and voting can start then, too. And maybe, TV watching. If you must.
    .-= Isle Dance´s last blog ..Littlest Tourists Climb Rocks =-.

  • I agree. I didn’t have a TV until my partner moved in. It’s been 6years and I’m still itching to get rid of it. I’m sick of advertising and the under tactics that marketers use to sell more stuff. I’m a big advocate for less stuff. Appalling to hear of their dubious social media campaigns.
    .-= wildelycreative´s last blog ..Importance of Adventurous Play for Children (and Adults!) =-.

  • I had no idea they were using children to do this! It’s horrible. We don’t have tv either so my son sees little commercials but he still gets bombarded with materialism. “I need this mom”. He’s 2!
    .-= Meghan´s last blog ..Love =-.

  • So wrong. And I’m not talking about on the marketers side. It’s their job. We might not like it, and it would be really great if marketing in general was able to be more practical, but it’s what marketers are supposed to do.

    What parents are supposed to do is protect their children. Allowing a 7 year old or a even a 15 year old (I agree – 16 might be the earliest something like this would even begin to be appropriate, if you had a mature 16 year old) to put himself out there in the social media world is risky. To do it just so your kid can get some free stuff he doesn’t even need is just wrong.

    I don’t know the specifics of how this would work, but I can imagine that the more kids a kid is connected with socially would probably make him more attractive to the marketers who want him to stump their stuff. So now, kids are going to have an incentive to grow their social network and they will use less discretion when choosing who to connect with. The more strangers they are connected with online, the more danger there is for one of those strangers to want to do a kid harm.

    My 7 and 10 year olds need my permission and a password that only my husband and I know to get to the g-mail account that we’ve set up so they can e-mail their grandparents. Allowing them on Facebook or Twitter or another social media site is out of the question.

    I hope this marketing scheme fails because parents won’t stand for their children being put in this position, but sadly I have a feeling it won’t fail for that.


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