Children Inundated by Often Covert Advertising Online

30 Sep 2021

Minors are exposed to 14 minutes of advertising for every hour they spend connected to the Internet, according to the Universidad Internacional de la Rioja (Unir).

Ads, covert endorsements, recommendations from 'influencers'... Children are exposed on the Internet to myriad advertising messages, often without their being aware of it. Every hour they spend connected to the Internet, they consume some 14 minutes of advertising - a higher level of exposure than they experience watching television - constituting as much as 80% of a child's browsing time in some instances.

So concludes the study Critical thinking as a digital competence of the XXI century: Analysis of the capacity of minors to identify and recognize the origin and intentionality of informative, educational and persuasive content in social networks (Prensacrigital), directed by Professor Beatriz Feijoo Fernández of the Universidad Internacional de La Rioja (Unir). 

The project, in which STI expert Charo Sádaba (University of Navarra) participated, analyzes the advertising exposure of minors when they use cell phones, as well as their perception and interaction with advertising through social media. Published this September, the work is based on a sample of 501 households with children aged 10 to 14 from Chile, although its results can be extrapolated to other countries such as Spain, according to its authors.

The study shows that a majority of the minors surveyed detect standard format advertising but do not consider as such advertising that is camouflaged among the content they are viewing. In fact, participants explain that they consume these ads "as entertainment." Such is the case with 'unboxing' videos, and YouTuber and Instagrammer recommendations, which minors actively consume.

"We are facing a dilemma, because it is the consumers themselves who demand commercials with diffuse borders between entertainment and advertising," claims Feijoo, adding that more than half of minors (54%) completely ignore standard advertising, and only 3% pay attention or click on it when it comes to products that interest them,  such as toys or food.

The study also points out that the highest percentage of ads received by minors appear through online games (23%), followed by catering and distribution (18%), entertainment (8%) and fashion (8%). It also reveals that, in many cases, these ads are not targeted to the young people’s age segment or interests. "Through smartphones, minors are exposed to advertisements for products and services not intended for them, such as cars or alcoholic beverages, especially when they use their parents' cell phone. We must remember that the age classification of apps does not affect the advertising inserted in them,” Feijoo warns.

The research seeks to draw attention to the need to promote advertising literacy among minors so that children learn to approach digital content and advertising – especially on social media –with discerning and critical judgment.

Renee Hobbs, Professor of Media and Communications at the University of Rhode Island, and founder of the Media Education Lab, is a strong proponent of teaching digital and media literacy to young people. This “expanded conceptualization of literacy,” as she calls it, can  “limit the negative potential impact of life in a media-saturated society, and also to enable [young people] to take full advantage of the many benefits that come from being an active, engaged producer and consumer in a dynamic, media-centric culture.” 

Among the basic competencies taught, she explains, are analytical skills that help young people to “identify the author, purpose and point of view of a message; evaluate credibility and quality; and recognize and resist stereotypes.”