"Its that time of year when adverts and marketing gear up for the Christmas rush. Since no-one has discovered the database Santa and his elves must have to assess which child wants what present, marketeers must rely on more mundane databases to gather information and give kids as many Christmas present choices as possible. The issues of marketing to children are fraught with moral and legal issues however. The main issues for those considering targeting children to consider are:
1. Under the Data Protection Act 1998 a person can only be marketed with their consent. The most fraught issue here is how can a child give consent? It is a very old principle of law that a person who has not reached the age of majority (i.e. who is under 18) cannot be bound by a contract and so whether they can give the required consent is questionable. If a child does agree to receive information from a mareketeer, the marketeer risks the contract being voided by the child or their parent or guardian.
2. This may not be an insurmountable problem however, as a company can contract with a parent or guardian and 'target' marketing to a child via them. Children under the age of 13 should not be marketed to at all unless their parent or guardian has given consent to this however.
3. If a company does process details of minors it is likely to be treated as "sensitive information" and so be subject to a stricter regime regarding use and confidentiality than comparable data concerning an adult. In particular, marketeers should be very careful to seek consent to release of any data about a child to a third party or purchasing databases of children's details from third parties.
4. A concern for any marketeer is how to get their message across - with children it is arguable that the message must be clearer, more easily understood and even less likely to mislead than it would be for adults. Marketing material must be prepared with this in mind.
5. Marketeers should be aware that legislation in different countries treats marketing to children in different ways and should ensure that they take advice in any countries where children will be targeted or otherwise limit their marketing geographically.
The Direct Marketing Association (www.the-dma.org.uk) offers good advice on what products and services should not be targeted at children (see http://www.the-dma.org/library/guidelines/dotherightthing.shtml#12); these include obvious ones such as credit cards and alcohol, but it also reminds readers that children are "less sophisticated consumers" than adults and so less aware of the financial consequences of purchases and renewals. In their recent report on what adverts offend, the Advertising Standard Authority found that the adverts most likely to offend are those which target children. Thus, anyone considering marketing direct to children should seek guidance from their industry body and from a solicitor specialised in this area."
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