Hey Kid…Want Some Candy?

Well friends, we’ve officially been catapulted into the month of October, which means marketing of Halloween treats kicks into high gear! I do have to admit it, I am a fan of Hershey’s peanut butter pumpkins and am psyched that the candy maker chose to expand it’s horizons beyond Easter and the peanut butter egg to allow me to celebrate a multitude of holidays with the peanut-buttery goodness. I knew that we’d officially entered the Fall season when I visited the local grocery store only to find the sun tan lotions, barbecue essentials, and beer coolers replaced with hundreds of thousands of pounds of Halloween candy. Now, I’ll step off my endorsement (this is a marketing blog after all) of the pumpkins and get down to business.

Halloween is a great time to again consider the ethics of marketing to children. Both online and off, kids are presented with many marketing messages to persuade them, and their parents, to purchase Halloween treats and many other products. This time of year also reminds me that, ultimately, it is the responsibility of parents to determine what is and what is not appropriate for their children.

As the title of my post suggests, it was, and is, common practice for parents to remind their children to never talk to strangers who offer candy, or a ride home from school, or try and persuade them in other ways. Kids are also taught to “Just Say No” when it comes to drugs. This was never illustrated more brilliantly than in the super-awesome episode of Diff’rent Strokes seen here (I encourage you to watch it in its entirety):

Why then, when it comes to newer methods of marketing, like online marketing specifically, do marketers end up being blamed for obesity, being predatory toward younger consumers, etc., etc. when the fundamentals of “just saying no” to drugs or strangers offering you candy and overseeing what children consumer should still be with parents? Whether someone is literally offering a child candy or trying to do so “virtually” through a chat encounter or elsewhere, parents should instill the values of right and wrong with their children. Further, they should take an active role in what their children consume both online and off.

While parents are at a disadvantage right now because they aren’t necessarily the first to know how to use certain technologies and may be luddites who fear such emerging media, they should be active in establishing what is appropriate for their children when it comes to online interactions, including the marketing messages they receive.

Candy and consumer goods should be occasional treats to reward for doing well in school or completing chores or hitting some other milestone. Better yet, as was the case when I was younger, if a child sees a marketing message and wants a toy or candy or anything else, let them save up and buy it themselves under parental supervision. This adds value and helps to establish a work ethic and good spending habits in the long run.

As marketers, it is our responsibility to be sure that messages are truthful and age appropriate and that websites and online promotions targeting children follow the rules of not being deceptive, not requesting information from young consumers, offering parental tips, etc. Going back to Hershey’s, their Halloween site and even their homepage puts this into practice via a cool feature that flags their websites as possibley trying to sell goods to consumers with an “Ad Alert” megaphone icon as seen here:

Strategies such as these help to keep online marketing responsible while also providing parents additional tools to help make sure their children are safe when they aren’t around.

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