Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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5/26/2009
11:12 AM
Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins
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Online Advertisers Targeting Our Kids

The economic mess has come home to roost. I mean literally come home, as in vendors are trying to worm their way into every available keyhole and Internet connection to squeeze more dollars out of our kids.

The economic mess has come home to roost. I mean literally come home, as in vendors are trying to worm their way into every available keyhole and Internet connection to squeeze more dollars out of our kids.It used to be that the Federal Trade Commission regulated how advertisers could deal with kids, but that was in the days before laissez-crap-on-our-heads became the national philosophy and "show me the money" became our unofficial motto.

So now it's come to "BillMyParents," or, more properly, "Bilk My Parents." A company called Socialwise is hoping online retailers will install this button that says "BillMyParents" and gets kids (and their parents) to register for this "quick and easy" (quick and easy so you don't have time for second thoughts) service that lets kids ask their parents for an online good or service via an email with a subject line that reads "Can I get this?" Assuming the parents have already registered for this God-awful service, their approval is a mouse-click away. The best thing I can say about it is that it's so lame it's unlikely to work.

As Jim Collas, the CEO of Socialwise told me, "kids understand BillMyParents on the button and immediately get what it is." But there's a huge leap from "getting it" to "can I get this." What kid would try to get their parents to buy them something with an email? As my 13-year old daughter confirmed, asking your parents to buy you something involves artfully reading the mood, the current mother-father dynamic, and recent events impacting family finances. Abdicating all that careful strategy to an email? I don't think so.

That doesn't mean marketers aren't trying, though, because the potential for exploitation, er, revenue, is enormous. According to a study by eMarketer:

there were 8 million kids and teens logging on to virtual worlds in 2008. By 2013, that number is expected to grow to more than 15 million; this will encompass about 54% of kids between the ages of 3 and 11. For teens, 25% will be hitting virtual worlds in 2013.

And marketers aren't even being coy, probably because, hey, anything goes, including marketing to three-year-olds. So Tucker Aaron, lead strategist at Animax, an agency that creates virtual worlds on behalf of toy manufacturers, can feel perfectly comfortable saying, "[Brands] recognize there's a big market need for this with kids going online and looking for entertainment."

Back in 1978, the FTC proposed a series of rules restricting ads directed at kids. The backlash was immediate and vociferous. "The Washington Post called the proposal 'a preposterous intervention that would turn the FTC into a great national nanny.'" But it seems that as a society, survival is not an instinct we possess and maybe we need that nanny after all.

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