Our Children are being targeted!

Social Media

Because we now live in a digital age – an era with which I am fully engaged through my work – I am acutely aware that, while technology offers opportunities for education and entertainment, its impact on a vulnerable younger population, not least the developing infant, requires specific, careful consideration.

Through taking the UCC course – Social Media and Children: Challenges for Professionals (CPD Course) run by Dr Maureen Griffin, I hoped that I might gain some insight into what are the current usage trends in these younger demographics and how these are impacting on them. This is a subject I have a particular personal interest in as I feel strongly that I, as a professional, should adhere to a code of best practice and have high ethical standards in all my work related activities. One example in which marketers are falling short of these ideals, in my opinion, is in the indiscriminate targeting of children using mobile devices.

From birth to seven years old, children must go through three stages of play in order to develop vital social skills. The increasing amount of access to technology that children have, has led many researchers to consider how the use of digital media is affecting them mentally and physically. Premature and/or prolonged exposure to screen-based devices in these early years may interrupt the natural progression through these play stages, which could have developmental consequences into adolescence.

Despite this evidence of adverse effects, companies still promote their products and apps as being educational for very young children without having any real supporting evidence. Nevertheless, this area is a billion euro, growing industry. A review of the educational app market on iTunes in 2012 found that the early learning toddler app market was the most popular category on the Apple iTunes App Store (Shuler, 2012).

There is a lack of regulation in relation to the educational benefit claims made by app developers and TV/video producers.

Relevant to an older age group, I was quite shocked by the level of information being gathered by digital, social media and app companies from minors – preteens and teens – and the extent of the prevalence of targeted advertising pushing the pester-to-purchase model.

Bearing in mind that you have to be eighteen to purchase a bill-pay phone, I carried out some research into the age limits for purchasing a smartphone. I discovered that you can go into any store, or go online, and purchase a pay-as-you-go smart device at any age as long as you have the money/credit card to pay for it.

Only recently, I heard a radio advert by Carphone Warehouse bemoaning how difficult it can be to select a Confirmation name (target group 11-12 year-olds) but how at least one decision (of the child), as to which smartphone to choose, can be made easy by the company. This is marketing actively targeting children who, in my view, are incapable of making an insightful, informed decision around the consequences of unsupervised internet access.

Carephone Warehouse

Considering that I am writing this course review in the context of a professional development module requirement, it came to mind that the personality typing that was done earlier not only highlights what roles might suit me but also gives a good indication of which jobs I would find very difficult, if not impossible, to do. I can categorically say that I would not feel good about myself working for a company promoting a dubious app to occupy toddlers or flogging smart phones to children!

Leaving aside my own scruples, another thing to point out here is that ethical considerations should inform all digital marketing campaigns (and by this I mean not just complying to advertising standards) because it impacts on the company’s profitability into the future. The damage done to a brand by being associated with a practice that might subsequently be shown to be detrimental to society in the long term – the promotion of smart phone use by preteens, young teens and of screen time for toddler pacification – will cost a lot more to repair than any profits to be gained by opening up a new market in the short term.

Lastly, I pose the question: ‘Is there a professional standards and ethics module taught on any third level marketing course in Ireland?’ as a counterbalance to the promotion of an ‘edgy’ brand mind-set, and an anything goes, eyes only for the bottom line, end justifies the means, no such thing as bad publicity, type of mentality.

References:

Shuler, C. (2012). iLearn II: An analysis of the education category on apple’s app store. New York.

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