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How can I keep track of and teach my kids about all the different forms of online advertising?
There's a famous scene in the movie The Social Network, the fictional story of Facebook's origins, where the Mark Zuckerberg character says he'd never sell ads because "ads aren't cool." Well, everybody knows how that went. Today, every digital media CEO -- especially ones with products targeting kids -- is trying to figure out how to keep their product cool while still making money.
That's why keeping track of -- and teaching kids about -- all the different forms of online advertising is challenging: They're sneaky by design.
To maintain their cool, while also satisfying the bean counters, digital media companies need to make their ads, well, not look like ads. They don't want to alienate kids who are more than happy to move onto the next big thing once ads start ruining their fun. The pursuit of cool has led to many creative uses of technology, such as bots that chat with kids about products. But it makes the ads hard to spot.
Another reason digital ads are sneaky is they're interactive. Online advertising is a two-way street: It sends you information while it collects information. Clicking, swiping, chatting, playing, and sharing give companies data about your likes, dislikes, habits, and even your location and your age. Again, to get kids to interact, the ads must be pretty cool.
Finally, digital marketing is social. Companies take advantage of tweens' and teens' friend networks and love of sharing content to send ads and get kids to share them with friends. Marketers integrate the ads with kids' own content so they're more motivated to share it.
So if it's hard to tell where real content ends and ads begin, that's intentional. Here are some of the new techno tricks that digital marketers use to sneak in advertising. Ask your kids if they've ever seen any of these. Talk about the reasons companies use these strategies and how kids can be smart consumers of information by recognizing marketing gimmicks:
Chatbots. Kik Messenger offers downloadable chatbots for celebrities and brands such as Jack in the Box. Kids know that they're talking to a robot, but it's still fun enough that they stay engaged.
Embedded marketing. Brands such as Target, Forever 21, and Levi's use Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat to showcase their products just as kids use these platforms to showcase their lives.
Viral videos. Smart companies create videos such as this one for Apple Music featuring Drake bench-pressing that are designed to go viral, meaning that kids share the videos on social media (basically, doing the company's work for them).
Sponsored or promoted chats. Brands create profiles on social media apps, such as Kik and Snapchat. When users follow them, they can chat about their products.
Location-based ads. A lot of brands use GPS to push ads based on where the user is located. Snapchat's geo-filter, for example, lets companies advertise on users' snaps when they take a picture in the company's target location.