How to ensure advertising is a positive influence on the next generation

As a member of the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN), the wellbeing of children and advertising’s influence on them has always been an important consideration for TKF. For me personally, that really hit home when The Guardian reported that there were 55,000 problem gamblers aged 11-16 in the UK last year. It’s a horrifying statistic and advertising had a huge role to play in its development.

The ICO released the age appropriate design code in September 2020 to ensure children’s rights are upheld in an internet not designed for them and Facebook has recently announced the removal of interest targeting for under 18s. This is a prominent topic of conversation in the ad tech world, and it should be something we all must consider more seriously going forward.

Whilst most of our advertisers will not have products that actively target children, many of them will be targeting parents and/or families. With 48-55% of children under 5 accessing digital devices*, potential inaccuracies in demographic data and the reach of mass marketing, we cannot afford to ignore the influence we have. And indeed, the CAN advice does suggest following ASA guidelines on targeting children (where possible) whilst targeting the family audience.

At TKF, we feel very strongly about the ethics of everything we do. This starts from which advertisers we chose to work with, right down to our media planning and buying. As such, we have distilled some guidelines for advertisers to consider when producing their creatives and media plans:

  1. Consider the best interests of children in all aspects of design of online services and product. If there is a likelihood that your online service will be accessed by children, make sure you consider how impressionable children are. Nudge techniques and language we regularly use to influence adults are not in the best interest of children.
  2. Focus on positive language and role models to avoid misrepresentation to children.
  3. Carefully consider the value and need for distressing imagery as these can have disproportionate influence on children and may lead to uniformed decisions and behaviours.
  4. Offer a realistic representation of society to ensure that advertising does not further contribute to the development of unconscious biases.
  5. Avoid glamourising negative behaviour so that children are not encouraged to replicate these behaviours.
  6. Include child focussed sites/content on blocklists where needed to minimise the amount of online advertising children are exposed to. Most platforms will have existing measures in place, but it’s our responsibility to verify them and put appropriate measures in place as appropriate.
  7. Where a publisher’s age verification is not reliable, use third parties like Zefr for added protection to avoid advertising to under 18s. Most platforms will have some level of demographic targeting in place that we can use to exclude children, but again, it’s on us to ensure this is reliable and put additional measure in place where appropriate.
  8. Buy placements that are easily identifiable as marketing so that children understand (as much as possible) the origin of the message

These methods are by no means fool proof but by building these practises into our processes, we can all work together to ensure advertising is a positive influence on the next generation.

By Gabby Krite, Digital Account Director 

Please note that this does not constitute as legal advice, all brands should take the appropriate steps to ensure they are adhering to appropriate legislation. The above is TKF’s opinion on ethical responsibility of advertisers and media buyers not actively targeting children but potentially in a position to influence them.