AdWiseOnline: Protecting YOU(th) against digital marketing practices

Launched on Safer Internet Day 2024, AdWiseOnline campaign on child and youth consumer protection in digital environments aims to raise awareness about manipulative digital marketing practices. The ultimate objective of the campaign is to enhance young people's understanding of digital marketing and online advertising and empower them with knowledge about their online rights as young consumers. 

Awareness–raising materials for young people 

AdWiseOnline materials are designed to simplify the complex terminology of digital marketing and the legal framework of consumer rights. These materials provide young people with a clear understanding of their rights, ensuring that they are equipped to navigate the digital world responsibly and safely.

Be wise - outsmart online ads and traps!

This interactive guide 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.

 

Educational toolkit for young consumers from the European Consumer Centres Network

As part of the European Year of Youth 2022, the European Consumer Centres Network has developed a toolkit of teaching materials to help discuss 'consumer issues' with young people in class or at home.


Video and accompanying guides, providing a range of discussion questions on the topic of online games. 

Quiz and accompanying guides, containing questions on mobile games, online shopping, online platforms and social media, scams and subscription traps.



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. 

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

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.

Background 

The AdWiseOnline campaign is running in 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) within the framework of the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) project


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.