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Children's Wellbeing in Film and Television Digital Marketing

Worldwide digital advertising spend is set to reach around £270 billion (US$330 billion) in 2019, accounting for approximately half of all spending across the global ad market. In highly digitally-developed countries such as the UK, China, Canada and the US, digital already dominates the landscape. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone, and especially not to those in marketing. Digital locations are where relevant and engaged audiences now exist, as they have done for some time. However, when coupled with the fact that we have never been more connected through the Internet of Things and our ability to deliver tailored messaging to people using a plethora of mediums, such vast scale and reach brings problems.


Many industries need to be particularly conscious of issues surrounding children’s wellbeing, especially in the marketing of content with adult-themes and a horror genre focus; such as that found with film and television brands. This also rings true for brands using such concepts in their ads. We have a duty of care to children’s wellbeing in digital spaces. Nearly 90% of children aged 5-15 are active on the internet, many of which also have a profile on a social media site, and while marketing messages can provide benefits to children, such as helping them to shape and grow their unique identities as they mature, many academic studies confirm negative consequences to behaviour and development due to advertising.


Merkle has a range of best practices and procedures in place for all media to ensure we actively mitigate against issues related to children’s wellbeing, and a plethora of other potential key advertising issues. Our living best-practice documentation exists in a state of constant evolution, ensuring we not only remain ahead of the curve in this area, but also take a leading position.


With children having a widespread online presence, and the ease of access to VOD platforms where much film and television industry advertisement is placed, there is a risk of children viewing content and messaging that may not be suitable for them if not properly controlled. In late 2017, Columbia Pictures engaged in a campaign for their horror-mystery thriller Insidious: The Last Key, which netted a respectable 33% from the notoriously hard-to-please Rotten Tomatoes cast of critics and reviewers. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) then received multiple complaints about “excessively frightening and shocking” YouTube pre-roll ads that were seen before content with a particular appeal to a young audience who just couldn’t let it go. The ASA found that the ads, which were also considered “likely to be unduly distressing to some adults”, had not been targeted appropriately and were in breach of relevant UK CAP codes and standards. Spotify also fell afoul of the ASA in 2018 with a horror-themed YouTube campaign where ads that were “particularly likely to scare young viewers” were incorrectly targeted, resulting in their running before content on channels with a younger viewership.


The ASA and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) have a variety of well documented UK advertising guidance for children and age-restricted ads online, as well as for video games and films, violence and its condoning and encouraging, fear and distress, use of stereotypes, and disabilites. The EU Commission also receives advice from the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA), who themselves compiled information on the protection of minors in EU member states. The Conscious Advertising Network (CAN) also has a developing manifesto dedicated to children’s wellbeing, one of their six manifestos that cover a range of advertising areas focusing on the prevention of advertising abuse. Merkle’s experts actively engage with updates and material from a variety of bodies and sources to ensure our best practices remain ahead of the curve.


Ultimately, a conscious approach to mitigating against key advertising issues can help to drive brand credibility and an increased reputation; something we at Merkle strive to achieve for our partners. Our strategy, planning and media activation experts always engage a number of seasoned best-practice-driven controls and techniques to ensure we manage for and against such issues across Programmatic Display, Social and Search. We also make sure that our best-practices live in a state of constant enrichment, whereby we frequently update them to remain at the forefront of developments. Our best practices are not only applied to our film and television partners, but also to other verticals where it may be desirable to limit exposure to younger audiences, including for alcohol, video games and FMCG brands, amongst others. To find out more on how we help brands and advertisers grow, and with their advertising issues, please get in touch with us!