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05 Jul 2012 - AEf Secretariat: More and different research on digital marketing and children needed, says AEf commissioned literature review

Today AEf is publishing a comprehensive literature review on digital marketing communications and children, prepared by Dr Barbie Clarke, of Family Kids and Youth and Cambridge University. The first of its kind, this literature review sheds light on what academic research globally has found on children’s interaction with digital marketing communications to date. But as ever, it throws up more questions than it answers. From AEfs’ perspective, the key ones are:

  • Are digital marketing communications really different from those on traditional media? Most academics assume so, but there is a real dearth of research into how children actually engage with marketing messages on digital media and whether and if so how this might differ from traditional advertising.
  • Is all digital marketing the same? Most research is about digital marketing in general, some on “advergaming”; there is very little research that informs children’s interaction with specific practices, e.g. mobile apps, online contests, social marketing, viral marketing, product placement…
  • Is it all about food and beverage marketing and diet? The bulk of the research today is in this field; there is very little beyond it.
  • Do we have the analytical tools to actually research children’s interaction with digital marketing correctly? Most research today is based on cognitive theory, but it is not clear whether this linear approach is suited to fully understanding the greater interactivity of the digital environment.
  • Are we doing the right kind of research? Most research on marketing and children is done in laboratory settings, e.g. a group of children is exposed to a range of food ads and their eating behaviour is analysed thereafter and compared to a control group. While this kind of research can be informative, it does not throw much light on children’s broader understanding, engagement and interaction with digital marketing communications in the real world. A different research approach, in real time and in real homes, seems needed.

As children’s use of digital media continues to grow worldwide and as digital becomes an ever more important part of the marketing mix, AEf’s mission will be to explore these issues in more depth, with a view above all to help inform what responsible digital marketing should mean.