Children cannot always distinguish online advertising from other content

On Childrens Rights Day, 21 November 2016, the FCCA held a discussion event on the effects on minors of advertising in mobile games, mobile applications and the social media. The discussion was founded on a recent study by the European Commission. The study suggests that online advertising affects childrens behaviour, although children themselves do not think they are influenced by it.

In addition to traditional channels, children an young people increasingly often encounter advertising in blogs and vlogs. They also consume a variety of digital services. Earlier this year, the European Commission published a study that looked into how children of various ages understand online advertising targeted at them, and how various forms of marketing affect children.

The results of the Commission’s study were presented at the event by the FCCA’s Senior Research Officer Helena Tuorila. The study involved group interviews and behaviour tests to see how children would react to online ads, advertisement games and in-game purchases. Children aged 11–12 found advertising annoying and believed that they were unaffected by it. The tests nonetheless revealed that advertising had a subconscious effect on the children’s behaviour. For example, advertisement games enhanced positive attitudes towards the advertised products. Children who had played a game advertising snacks ate more snacks than those who had played a game advertising toys.

Minors fall into a special category in the Consumer Ombudsman’s supervisory work. The younger the child, the more susceptible he or she is to the effects and impacts of advertising. Marketing targeted at minors has always been assessed more strictly than marketing directed at adults. Legal Counsel Katri Väänänen of the FCCA mentioned collaboration between vloggers, youtubers and advertisers as a topical example. Such collaboration can make it difficult to recognise advertising included in videos and to distinguish it from other content. Meanwhile, children’s mobile games include plenty of unreasonable user terms and conditions. For example, the terms and conditions of Pokémon Go remove the user’s protection and the rights to the material they produce. These terms and conditions are not automatically available in Finnish. Instead, the player must take action to access the translation.

New marketing techniques and channels are making the development of consumer and media competences necessary. The FCCA’s expert in charge of consumer education, Senior Adviser Taina Mäntylä discussed the competence descriptions that could be used to develop education and enhance the related competences in all age groups. The FCCA has also participated in the European Commission’s DigCompConsumers project, which aims to improve consumers’ digital competences.

Read more:

A summary of the study in the FCCA Slideshare account

The Commission’s Study on the impact of marketing through social media, online games and mobile applications on children’s behaviour

The Commission’s DigCompConsumers project

Learning materials for teachers, produced by the FCCA. The site also contains materials that anyone can use to develop their personal competence in marketing-related matters (in Finnish)