Before joining theEword, I worked with children aged five to 13. There were plenty of laughs and scraped knees as expected, but there were a few shocks too. Kids as young as five, for example, would sing theme tunes to TV ads and seem very much convinced by their messages. A couple of years older and they were mocking each other's mobile phones and comparing ringtones. As for the eleven-year-olds, a few tried to add me on Facebook.
Therefore, it comes as a huge relief to me personally that guidelines are in place to regulate the kind of content they might see or be exposed to. This week, the Advertising Association launched Check – the Children's Ethical Communications Kit. The website allows marketers to check regulations for all disciplines and platforms in one place, from games to TV to online.
This includes rules requiring any social networks with members under 13 to obey strict parental consent and data protection principles. Marketers can also read the CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) Code, which covers children up to the age of 16. According to this code, all advertising in the UK must be 'sensitive' to the inexperience and vulnerability of children, must be honest, and must never undermine parental authority or promote dangerous or immoral behaviour.
Although this code was developed for more traditional methods of marketing, the ASA recently announced that their remit was being extended to include online advertising. As a result, paid-for and user-created marketing on Facebook and Twitter will have to obey the CAP code if it is visible to children; a change that could have an impact on campaigns for alcohol products or certified-18 movies, for example.
Check may be an honourable concept, but unfortunately, I suspect it might prove to be a drop in the ocean. However careful UK marketers might be, advertising from other countries is still largely unregulated, not to mention spam. Most importantly though, in my experience, kids will always find a way to get around the rules and do something they shouldn't.