CMA resources: no Minor issue

The dilemma who is old enough to receive Marketing efforts is complex; I can’t flip past Teletoon, YTV or any typical Saturday morning TV fare without realizing how subjective the call is. But I do know that things have changed.

When I cut my teeth in Marketing, there was reason to err on the side of caution wrt marketing to minors. Companies such as P&G and Kimberly-Clark specifically aimed efforts at ‘parents’ – ie a target savvy enough to process a message/offer, and make the purchase decision.

4 ways why this is not longer the dominant approach wrt marketing to minors:

(i) my early marketing roles were with long-term-thinking firms that didn’t ‘control the narrative’ about what was right or wrong. They didn’t want to ‘step in it’ and open themselves up to accusations of preying on naive children/teens;

(ii) ‘age compression’ has undeniably occurred wrt children getting to be much more media savvy;

(iii) today, firms ‘setting the bar’ in Marketing are not FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) firms; they’re tech/ digital firms who are both referee & player in the ‘reaching minors’ arena. Not only is their conduct with kids largely unsupervised*, they’re firms that can influence the moral narrative via social media [*Until Meta was outed by one of their own for flagrantly violating that trust, if tech giants said they weren’t taking advantage of the young ppl, they were pretty much left to do whatever they felt like doing]

(iv) kids have money! When I was 12 years old, both of my jobs were at minimum wage; maybe I could eventually save enough for a bike or music player. As 1 of 6 children in a family with 1 breadwinner, there was no doling out dollars to kids. Today’s demographics are typically 1 or 2 children per family and 2 breadwinners. Many children/tweens are showered with gifts, allowances & spending autonomy for ‘their right’ to choose a phone, badge fashion, etc. Spending power makes them irresistible for marketers.

So how DOES one decide how young is too young?

If you want perspective on this key issue, consider the resources of a professional third party, such as the CMA. They publish a superb, clear and standards-driven ethical guide.

Tidbits: what constitutes ‘old enough’ varies by type of marketing function eg Research standards are more rigorous (higher age) than Messaging standards -but even Message guidelines vary by the nature of the topic, the risk of doing harm, etc.

Often, when I advise students to NOT market to minors, I get a blank stare back, followed by a student project aiming precisely at taking $ from 14 year olds. Evidently, I’m just not getting through. Or they’ know exactly what they’re doing, but aim to work for a standard-less tech behemoth. So be it.

When you’re ready to have some ethical standards, the CMA will be waiting.

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