Now that my older kids are spending time independently online, I’ve been looking into how companies market directly to children. I was delighted to contribute to US site ‘Very Well Health’ on this very topic. The article is based on research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). The research looked at McDonalds targeted marketing practices to children on Instagram. You can find a copy of the original study here. The study is based on a fast food company but really the practices used by the company are applicable to any product that wants to sell to children.


Who’s feeding the kids online…

What did I learn?

I was interested to learn just how targeted the marketing was. The ads changed based on the child’s interests, language and search history for example. Traditional marketing – such as a free toy in happy meal was generic, it appealed to some kids and not others.


What is the problem?

The problem is that this style of marketing effectively removes choice from the child. How are they to know that the ads are so clever. It is also of concern that the frequency at which the ads were displayed increased in lower income areas. As a parent, how can parents in lower income areas compete with this style of marketing? We’ve all heard; ‘I blame the parents’ when a child is over consuming foods that don’t contribute to long term health.


What can be done?

We all tend to think ‘how bad can it be? Well, quite bad actually.

I think everything starts with raising awareness. Irish Heart completed an excellent review called ‘Who’s feeding the kids online?’ The review included parents of pre teens and teens. It found that most parents were largely unaware of how targeted the marketing was. On examining the ads most of the parents included found them to be ‘misleading and exploitative’.


What next?

Protecting kids online includes protecting them from what advertising they are exposed to.

As outlined by Irish Heart the laws around marketing practices to kids online need to be reviewed. The current laws for broadcast media need to be extended to all digital platforms.

Any change has to start with us, as parents starting the conversation.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.