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Pop-ups, pop-unders, banners and buttons: The ethics of online advertising to primary school children

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The growth in children's access to the internet has led to the development of thousands of child-oriented websites, many of them heavily laden with commercial promotion. This has led interest groups, parents and lobbyists to question the ethics of targeting children through this new medium and some have even called for it to be banned. This paper examines the evidence behind these concerns, gives an overview of the codes currently in place to regulate online advertising to children and presents a review of the commercial practice on some of the websites currently popular with UK primary school children aged 9–11. Most of the sites accessed by today's children are not specifically targeted at them. This means that advertising tends to be for products not used by children. While most of these adverts are irrelevant rather than harmful, the fast-evolving interactive formats of online advertising, however, give cause for concern. In particular, half of adverts (particularly adver-games) are not clearly labelled as such; signposting from host sites to an advertiser's site is poor; and there is significant use of popular children's characters to incite sales. All of these practices are potentially deceptive for children below senior school age who may find it hard to distinguish persuasive intent from entertaining content in the current online environment. There is thus a strong case for site owners, advertisers and self-regulatory bodies to work together to ensure that sites are aware of the audience they are attracting and that they make it easy for children to understand quite clearly the difference between what is designed to entertain and what is designed to persuade.Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice (2007) 9, 30–46. doi:10.1057/palgrave.dddmp.4350076
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-07-01

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