AdWiseOnline campaign – Protecting YOU(th) against online marketing practices

What is the campaign about? 

BIK’s new initiative focuses on marketing practices targeting children online, aiming to analyse these practices and develop evidence-based awareness campaigns. Facilitating a partnership between the EC’s DG CONNECT and DG JUST policy frameworks, as well as the public-facing networks of European Safer Internet Centres (SICs) and European Consumer Centres (ECC-Net), the AdWiseOnline campaign on child and youth consumer protection in digital environments has been launched on Safer Internet Day. This initiative aims to raise awareness about the online targeting of young consumers and shed light on the responsibilities that companies and online platforms must uphold to safeguard young consumers from online influences.

Research on manipulative marketing practice in digital environments

To underpin the development of the campaign, academic research on the analysis of marketing practices has been conducted by Ghent University. The research findings were compiled into a comprehensive public report which can also serve as a valuable resource for stakeholders and policymakers. 

Persuasive tactics and impactful strategies

The research reveals four major persuasive tactics utilised by digital marketers — integration, interaction, personalisation, and emotion — posing challenges to children’s advertising literacy. Influencer and in-game marketing emerge as impactful strategies, with emotional appeals using advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) likely to become more prevalent. The report also identifies gaps in current scholarship, such as limited research on newer platforms (such as Snapchat and TikTok), specific age groups, and a lack of diversity in the products investigated.

Children's rights in the context of digital marketing

Examining children’s rights in the context of digital marketing, the report acknowledges challenges arising from complex and immersive practices: 

  • impacting freedom of expression,
  • privacy,
  • access to diverse information,
  • the right to play,
  • protection against economic exploitation.

Simultaneously, it recognises positive opportunities in the digital realm, emphasising the marketing industry’s role in providing high-quality content and online services for children.

EU legal frameworks for protecting children

The report delves into the strengthened EU legal framework for protecting children from digital marketing practices, encompassing directives like the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD), the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), the Digital Services Act (DSA), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and the forthcoming Artificial Intelligence Act. It highlights self-regulation within the marketing sector and explores harmful practices, outlining regulatory mechanisms to counter them.

In conclusion, the study emphasises the pervasive influence of marketing practices on various aspects of children’s online experiences. It underscores the need for a balanced approach, shielding children from potential risks while empowering and educating them to enhance media literacy and commercial decision-making skills. This comprehensive strategy is crucial in shaping effective awareness-raising activities in the evolving digital landscape.

Looking ahead: next steps of the campaign 

Throughout the campaign, various education and awareness-raising materials will be published with the aim of understanding marketing techniques and defining manipulative practices. While the ultimate objective is to reach children and young people, the materials will be suitable for all individuals who wish to understand the topic and support children and young people in making informed decisions.

Safer Internet Day 2024 marked the campaign’s launch with the publication of the research report Manipulative digital marketing practices targeted at children and youth online. Following this, a user-friendly booklet will be released explaining the main aspects of children’s rights as young consumers online, and the responsibilities and obligations of companies and content creators to create a safer space for children and young people. In addition, multimedia materials help to inform about the world of profiling and identifying ads online. The campaign will also benefit from online events involving experts and individuals interested in the field. Finally, the campaign period will encompass World Consumer Day 2024, unravelling the topic of children’s rights as young consumers. There will also be a spotlight on the AdWiseOnline campaign at the European Consumer Summit event on 18 April organised by the European Commission. 

Don’t miss out on the publication of the AdWiseOnline campaign resources and materials: check this page regularly and follow the #AdWiseOnline hashtag to get updates on the campaign through social media.

Legal frameworks for online consumers

Digital apps are omnipresent and concerns soar to protect children as consumers in the digital environment. 

The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive sets rules in relation to misleading, aggressive, or otherwise unfair commercial practices including marketing practices. It protects all consumers, including children, in stores or online. It considers children a group of consumers who are particularly vulnerable to such practices and prohibits direct exhortation towards children. 

Under the Digital Services Act, ‘dark patterns’ are prohibited. This term describes deceptive online interface designs intended to influence and trick users into rash actions, purchases, or complicating the cancellation of subscribed services (R 67). Platforms cannot display adverts based on profiling and targeting if they are certain that a user is a minor (Art. 28). Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube are required to alert users to advertising content and the advertiser’s name especially when targeting minors (Art. 39). 

View and download “The Digital Services Act” explained booklet on measures to protect children and young people online.

Background 

The AdWiseOnline campaign is running in cooperation with the network of Safer Internet Centres (SICs) and European Consumer Centres (ECC-Net) within the framework of the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) project.