There’s been a great debate recently about what codes of conduct should be in place in terms of marketing at children via the internet.

If your customer base is children, what rules should you bear in mind to keep your marketing legal and moral? Is it just common sense or is there more to it?

Marketing Week carried comments from Agnes Nairn, professor of marketing at EM-Lyon Business School in France and RSM Erasmus University in the Netherlands.

She warned that it is very difficult to police online marketing, putting children at risk of advertising and promotions that do not meet the legal requirements in the UK.

Her comments follow calls from Tory leader David Cameron for marketers to show restraint when it comes to selling to youngsters.

Personally, I believe online marketers have a duty to behave responsibly when it comes to kids but if you disagree, I’d be interested to hear why. Perhaps you think the parents need to take overall responsibility or that your only duty is to keep your client within the legal parameters.

Marketing to children online

The ASA enforces rules set out by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP).

It’s the CAP code that covers online marketing, so what’s actually in it?

What counts as a child?

The code considers anyone under the age of 16 to be a child but it accepts that that covers a pretty broad range of ages. Some marketing is suitable for teenagers but not for seven-year-olds – that’s pretty clear to most of us.

Don’t cause children harm

Now, even the most hardened salesman is going to raise an eyebrow at this one, after all, you’re unlikely to be selling a product or service that harms your target customers.

However, this actually covers some things you may not have considered. Youngsters shouldn’t be asked to visit strange places or talk to unknown adults – so if you were planning a campaign that encourages them to save labels, wrappers, coupons and so on, you need to be really careful about what you might be encouraging them to do.

On your website or in any marketing messages, be careful not to show children behaving dangerously (unless you’re attempting to illustrate how dangerous it is).

Behaving dangerously could be as simple as being out on the street without adult supervision – depending on the age of the children – so make sure your team is aware of this.

Fair selling to children

I know at least one harassed young dad who thinks it’s never right to market at children. However, children are getting online at younger and younger ages – they’re the so-called ‘digital natives’ – and so more online professionals are being called on to sell to them.

What’s fair and what’s exploitative? Well, the code states that we shouldn’t take advantage of children’s lack of experience, vulnerability, credulity or loyalty. What does that mean in practise?

Self esteem

Don’t try to make children feel inferior or unpopular because they don’t have the product you’re selling. Knowing kids, if it’s a popular product, they’re already making it hard enough for the child that doesn’t have it.


Don’t tell kids they lack loyalty, courage or duty if they fail to buy a product. Children can feel incredible brand loyalty so be careful not to exploit that by making unfair demands, for example, getting them to pressure their friends into buying the product.


Make sure your marketing allows children to judge the size, performance and characteristics of what you’re selling.

The bank of mum and dad

Bit of an obvious one but it’s especially important online. Make sure any child customers get their guardians’ permission before they sign up for any products.

Things to think about

The internet creates a whole new world of potential dangers for kids and online professionals should give this some thought and do what we can to limit the potential harm.

Social media marketers need to give careful thought to any online communities and forums they create; are they safe spaces for children?

Direct marketers need to consider how to prevent young teenagers signing up for inappropriate marketing content – like alcohol adverts.

Banner ads and pay-per-click content needs to be appropriate to kids and conscious of the searches they are more likely to conduct. Adults may search for ‘South Park’ but many kids will too.

Parents, of course, have a responsibility but so do we. Our whole industry needs to work on this problem before a government imposes tough legislation to do it for us.

Kevin Gibbons

Published 18 January, 2010 by Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons is CEO at SEO and content marketing agency BlueGlass, he can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.

104 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (14)

Save or Cancel


A subject very dear to my heart - I vet every site before including it on Allkids and do not include sites which are age inappropriate or ones that carry extensive pop-ups or pop-unders -  check them all  regularly and remove when necessary.

I recently had to remove!! they were carrying adverts for Forex Trading and a site which required parental approval for over 13s - an online community with very 'sexy' avatars - how many young teenagers are savvy enough to use a false DOB.

I did contact them and their parent company Viacom and although they never replied (I lie, someone did and suggested my computer was riddled with spyware!!) those adverts were removed, although they are still showing adverts which I think are inappropriate for a major kids site.

That's the problem, the internet is global but Best Practice Guides are not!

over 8 years ago


Self esteem online

I believe it is better to receive some help from an online marketing or programming specialist for protecting your children from the vagaries of internet. They have all the skills and experience to screen all viewings.

over 8 years ago

Rowan Heasley

Rowan Heasley, Founding Partner at Naked Penguin Boy Ltd

Well done Elaine, not many sites take the time to vet every site that they link to and in some cases it is impossible as there are just too many external links.

Sooner or later the government will impose tough legislation though it will be impossible to enforce it due to the nature of the internet; it will cause a number of headaches for the legitimate brands.

Younger children are only aware of a certain number of sites and regularly visit them and rarely stray too far or search for other sites. These primary destinations are learnt from TV, films and the playground and tend to be specific children’s brands such as Cartoon Network and Hit Entertainment. The majority of these children’s brands have their own guidelines and are generally pretty good at marketing responsibly to children.

Where things do occasionally go wrong is with the advertisers on these sites. The sites need to make revenue and advertisers do occasionally push their requirements too far. When this has occurred with ourselves we have steered the advertisers in a more child friendly direction and thankfully all have agreed so far but I dread the day when one of them insists on a certain “improper” direction and we have already been contracted to complete the project.

Teens are another matter entirely as they are starting to search far and wide and no amount of legislation will protect them and this is where a parents responsibility will come in and where sites can work with parents to ensure that they have appropriate content that engages the teen and satisfies the parent that they are in a safe environment.

over 8 years ago


Creative Marketing Strategies

Solid information.

I have never really thought about the rules of engagement as it pertains to children but after reading this article I agree with your viewpoints.

Though I do not have kids I think that one of the scariest things about them being online so early is that they are exposed to so many pornographic sites. I mean those things just pop out of nowhere.

All in all I think that we do have a social reponsibility because if it were our kids would we want them to be hoodwinked? Of course not...and Website owners should remember that you reap what you sow.

over 8 years ago



As a director of Swift Nature Camp a summer camp for children, it is important we protect our children.

.(<a href="" target="_blank">Minnesota Summer Camp</a>)

over 8 years ago



I am pleased to be in this community. Thx..

over 8 years ago


Szőnyeg tisztítás

I like the onkine marketing..very interesting " job " !

about 8 years ago



Just about every Internet marketing director and online content writer will tell you that online buyers are 4 to 6 times more likely to purchase from a business or company that features in the natural left side of Google, than from the right side PPC.

almost 8 years ago



Exchanging links with authority blogs and websites that are in your same market is another fantastic way to get the word out about your blog. The authority sites are going to have a higher page rank, and will also be listed high in Google’s search results. So do some searches and check those out and see if they are up to exchanging links. If they are not, you could always just add those into your blogroll. You do not need permission to do that if they are not into linking. But, in the world of blogs, most blog owners are thankful for all links, and are willing to return the favour.

almost 8 years ago


Compare 4 Kids

That is correct, Szonyegtisztitas, in fact 70% of clicks are on listings on the left (natural listings) and 30% on PPC listings. However, just because a website ranks on page 1 in either the natural or PPC listings unfortunately does not guarantee that a website is following best practises when marketing towards children.

almost 8 years ago



Try to build other websites that revolve around your primary niche. Use them to better market and infuse brand and traffic into your primary website. I’m not talking about building scraper websites. Build quality content ones, and invest money and time and work hours in them. But in the end, just make them a vehicle that you will use to better market your primary website.

almost 8 years ago



It´s always a sensitive subject to talk about kids online. As the article says you have to consider many different things in order to have your kids stay away from unnecessary and harming programs. There are many filters you can use to prevent them as much as possible.

over 7 years ago


Led vilagitas

The online marketing is the future. I love online marketing. Many people are against but I'm not against that. So on.

over 7 years ago



An interesting topic. Sure it helps the kids behavioral culture.
<help> <kid>

over 5 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.