By Alyssa Gregory

If you sell a product or service geared toward kids, you probably understand that marketing to minors can be sticky territory. Kids are very impressionable and often unable to decipher marketing messages from other messages, so marketers of kid-related products need to tread carefully.

This video from CBS news discusses some of the challenges with kids and marketing. Keep in mind the video is from 2007; clearly this issue has gotten infinitely more relevant (and complicated) since then!

This challenge of marketing to kids spans all types of media, but has become been more important since the rise of social media. We know Facebook’s terms requires users to be 13 or older, but apparently that doesn’t really matter. A survey by Consumer Reports found that there are 7.5 million kids under the age of 13 on Facebook.

So if you are targeting kids, is it ethical to attempt to reach them through social sites? An article on Mashable looks at both sides of the issue. Susan Linn, who runs the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, believes that marketing anything to kids is unethical because kids haven’t developed a filtering system. She says, “They don’t have the same cognitive processes as adults. They are not teeny adults. They have notoriously faulty judgment.”

On the other side, Paul Kurnit, the founder of KidShop, a marketing and communications firm specializing in targeting kids, disagrees: “We often tend to underestimate kids. They are savvy, trend-aware and trend creators.” He provides three tips for marketing to kids ethically and effectively through social sites:

  1. Stay in line with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by refusing to collect information about kids online (or do business with sites that do).
  2. Target influencers that are a little older than your target market.
  3. Target the real decision makers — parents.

An article in Fast Company takes a look at this issue as well, and I think this quote sums up the situation very accurately: “Today a child’s preferences and identity are shaped not just on the playground but also across an entire digital world of potential interactions and choices.”

So I put the question to you: As marketers, how can we be more responsible when it comes to targeting kids? Where do you stand on the ethical issues of marketing to minors?