Let’s start this week’s post off with an exercise. Think back to when you purchased or received your first cellphone. Think about the physical and visual aspect of that device. Think about the screen size and resolution, as well as the device’s storage and data processing capabilities. Depending on your age (and financial status), your experience may be similar to mine. I purchased my first cellphone in 2001. I was 19-years-old and had been living on my own for almost a year. I bought a Samsung A460 flip phone. It was silver and very small. When using the phone, the background light lit blue and the phone used one font type and color – black. I thought I was THE MAN with that phone. I had my contacts, at least one (very basic) game, and even had Garfield as my screensaver. Yes, Garfield: The lasagna-loving cat. That phone was simple, but it had just want I needed. Furthermore, at that time, digital marketing and communications came in the form of text messaging only. (i.e., “Text <insert promotional code here> to <insert short code here>”) Overtime, I upgraded my phone and went to a full-color phone, then an MDA, before buying my first iPhone in 2009. It was not until purchasing my first iPhone did I realize the power that such a small device possessed.
I did not get my first cell phone until I was 19-years-old, but nowadays, children as young as five own cellular devices that are 10 times more powerful than my now obsolete flip phone. Even my daughters, who are about to turn 13, have had their own cell phones since they were 10. My wife and I bought our girls cellphones in order to communicate with them, but it is amazing how much they know about their phones and what they are able to tell us about ours.
We live in a technologically advanced society in which children are being exposed to the Internet and digital marketing and communications at a young age. According to Amanda Lenhart, Senior Researcher and Director of Teens & Technology at Pew Research Center, 78% of teens have a cellphone, and about three in four teens ages 12 to 17 access the Internet via a mobile device (cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices). I see teenagers being connected to the Internet as a pro and a con for multiple reasons. A pro is the fact that these young adults have infinite knowledge at their fingertips. However, access to this power must be monitored to protect them from bullies and predators.
Is it ethical for a company to use the Internet to market its products to teenagers? This and many versions of this question have been debated for years. Some marketers believe that marketing to children and teenagers is necessary in order to build a brand loyalty, while others see devising a marketing strategy that is designed to influence children’s thinking as immoral.
It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that we continue to follow what is good and what is right. Marketers need to know what could be considered too far and how their messaging could positively or negatively influence a teenager who is still trying to find his/her identify. Furthermore, as parents, it is our job to closely monitor the things to which our children are exposed.