Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Online Advertising Regulation

Companies are increasingly using Internet sites, advergames, viral marketing, video advertisements and banner advertisements to advertise their products. There are many possible ethical implications to this, considering the fact that the online ads are different in structure to traditional ads and often are under different regulations.

Research shows that children under the age of 11-12 can be unable to consciously register the fact that they are being advertised to, and therfore unable to have a fair chance of putting up a defense or processing the information sensibly. Regulation has severely restricted how TV ads can advertise sugary products and even toys to children, in light of this research. Online mediums often are not covered by the same regulations.This is why sugary cereals and soft drinks create advergames on their sites that are oriented towards kids, and feature brand characters. The web sites are often portrayed as cheery and 'fun-centres' and feature wallpapers, company newsletters and games that you can send to friends, and advertising material in much greater quantity than nutritional or product information. This allows for very blunt advertising that would be unacceptable in traditional media.

Studies of major companies show that most companies do not use the online medium to adequately show nutritional information about their product, or to protect the information children give out when playing competitive or viral games that can be sent to others. Information gathering for marketing purposes can be facilitated on web sites.

Should online advertising be subject to equally harsh regulations as traditional advertising, or is it a different beast? Should certain games and site areas require an age check ( a notification that it is not appropriate for people under 16 for e.g.). Should certain practices such as enhancing a game's features if a user enters in a code found on a product wrapper, be banned as pressure advertising? Is it different from TV promotions promising free gifts and raffles if you find a certain token in your cereal box? Playing a computer advergame is a solitary experience, while parents can supervise kids when watching TV. Even though a tv ad might offer advantatges for buying the product, one does not have to do so to watch the ad. Are advergames with functionality dependent on buying products, much worse than this?

Even adults who play advergames could be subject to offensive material. Could online ads get away with content that may be considered offensive or discriminatory on TV, print or radio? Certainly there could be lawsuits and community pressure against certain web sites, but the regulation is not as well developed.

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