AdWiseOnline guide to outsmart unwanted ads and marketing traps online

In today’s interconnected world, young people are increasingly exposed to digital marketing practices. From social media platforms to mobile apps and video games, the online landscape overflows with advertisements and persuasive tactics. AdWiseOnline campaign resources aim to equip YOU(th) with the knowledge they need to outsmart online ads and traps and know their rights.

Date 2024-04-15 Author BIK Team Section awareness, industry, news, policy, research, youth Topic advertising/commercialism, data privacy, gaming, technical settings Audience children and young people, media specialist, organisations and industry, parents and carers, research, policy and decision makers, teachers, educators and professionals
Banner with the AdWiseOnline campaign logo and the visual element of a boy playing an online game

The hidden costs of ‘free’ platforms

The hidden costs of seemingly ‘free’ platforms extend beyond what meets the eye. Digital marketers strategically target young people, overloading them with ads. Influencers, a prominent part of this marketing landscape, play a significant role in this by promoting products and services on social media platforms. The results of the investigation conducted by the European Commission and consumer authorities show that online influencers rarely disclose commercial content. Shockingly, a comprehensive examination of 576 social media posts from influencers revealed that nearly all (97%) of these influencers posted commercial content, yet only one in five systematically indicated that their content was advertising.

This seamless integration of marketing into everyday digital experiences doesn't stop at social media. In-game marketing further blurs the line between entertainment and advertising. Whether it’s a banner ad during mobile gaming or a sponsored post within a gaming app, these seemingly harmless promotions can significantly influence behaviour and choices. 

As young consumers, children and young people must recognise that nothing is genuinely free; their attention and data hold value. 

Watch this AdWiseOnline video that was designed for young people to spot subtle marketing traps. 

Responsibilities of companies and content creators

The European Union has strengthened the legal framework for safeguarding children from digital marketing practices. EU legislation like the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD), the Digital Services Act (DSA) the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) aims to strike a balance between marketing and protection. 

Under this legal framework, companies and content creators have in particular the following responsibilities: 

  • Transparent advertising: Companies and content creators must clearly disclose advertisements. It can be done in the form of hashtags like #advertising, using labels and notices designed by social media platforms to indicate advertising and clearly identifying the brand the influencer collaborates with.
  • Fair advertising practices: Children are protected from aggressive ads that pressure them to buy. Countdown timers and limited time offers must not be implemented as they could manipulate children’s choices.
  • Careful data handling: When companies collect personal data, they must handle it with care - especially when collecting personal data for marketing and profiling purposes.
  • No profiling: Platforms cannot display targeted advertisements based on profiling if they are aware that the user is a minor.

Companies leverage content creators, such as influencers, to promote and showcase their products or services to a targeted audience effectively. Hence, in the eyes of European law they can be categorised as traders, who just like any businesses have a lot of rules to comply with. Within the Influencer Legal Hub, the European Commission has released a course that breaks down all these complex rules for influencers. The hub offers video trainings, written legal briefs, summaries of key European laws and Court of Justice decisions, along with links to national consumer authorities and additional resources.

Empowering young people to know their rights and be aware of marketing traps

While a significant responsibility rests upon companies and content creators, the objective of the AdWiseOnline campaign is to:

1) equip young people with the knowledge of their rights as young consumers. 

Children and young people have many powerful rights they should know about: 

  • Exploration and fun: Children and young people have the right to spend time online, share information, watch entertaining content, and play games. The internet is their playground!
  • Data protection: Their personal data deserves protection. Whether they’re on social media, using apps, or playing games, companies must safeguard their information.
  • Shield from exploitation: Companies cannot manipulate them or influence their choices unfairly. For example, they can’t pressure children and young people to buy in-game items or use sneaky tactics to make them feel guilty.
  • Voice matters: When new online rules are crafted or services designed, children’s views should be taken into account. Their voices count!
  • Complaints welcome: If their rights are violated, they have the right to complain. Advocating for their rights is essential.

2) empower young people to navigate the world of digital marketing critically and responsibly, and enhance their online advertising literacy.

Here are a few tips that could help young people to stay safe online and enhance their online advertising literacy:

  • Be critical: Question everything encountered online. It is important to understand that not all ads transparently reveal their intentions.
  • Understand persuasive tactics: Digital marketers employ various tactics, that need to be recognised by young people to make informed decisions:
    - Integration - seamlessly blending ads with content.
    - Interaction - engaging users directly.
    - Personalisation - tailoring ads to individual preferences.
    - Emotion - leveraging feelings.
  • Spot influencers: Influencer marketing wields significant power. Being aware that someone is endorsing a product can help promote understanding that their opinion may be influenced by sponsorship.
  • Guard privacy: Young people should always remember to adjust privacy settings, limit data sharing, and exercise caution when revealing personal information. Additionally, it’s important to remind them that they are free to request information on what a platform knows about them, erase or correct this data, or stop using their data for direct marketing purposes.
  • Spend money wisely: Children and young people should talk to a parent or a trusted adult when it comes to spending money online. Sometimes prices are displayed in virtual currency (like game coins), so it’s important to understand the difference before making purchasing decisions.
  • Adjust settings: Young people should be aware that on certain platforms, they can tweak specific settings for advertising preferences or switch off personalised feeds and opt for chronological views.
  • Report and engage responsibly: Young people should be reminded that they can report videos and posts that raise concerns. For example, sometimes content creators use dramatic tactics or dangerous challenges to grab attention. This is not a norm and can be reported.
  • Seek assistance when needed: It is important to let young people know that they are helplines and other authorities that can help them with the issue they have encountered or if they feel that their rights aren’t respected.

How to discuss these topics with children and young people?

A new AdWiseOnline guide – ‘Be wise - outsmart online ads and traps!’ explains, in simple terms, how companies make money through online advertising and offers tips to young people on navigating marketing traps. It also delves into the online rights that are crucial for young people to be aware of. 

Check the campaign page regularly and follow the #AdWiseOnline hashtag to see the campaign roll out on social media.

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