All media is intended to communicate a message. Most evident in marketing messages is the agenda to use media to promote a particular product or service and ultimately sustain a consumer culture. Other than outright advertisements, marketing messages can also take the form of product placements, paid product reviews, celebrity endorsements and advertorials.

In the digital age, the social nature of the internet has also enabled new marketing concepts where the messages may be embedded and thus more insidious. Marketing messages are spread through friends' recommendations, blogs and sponsored stories, or through a practice called "astro-turfing" where users are paid to be reviewers while pretending to be a disinterested party. Consumers may also be bombarded by targeted web ads, for example, a new mother could be shown ads for baby formula and diapers. Such carefully customized ads are based on information, usually collected by stealth, based on the surfing habits, preferences, interests and profile of the unwitting consumer.

More recently, advertisers have introduced Quick Response or QR codes as an innovative and aggressive way of engaging consumers through their mobile phones. This is in addition to the constant direct marketing text messages, IM messages and coupons that get sent to our inbox.

Whether online or offline, recognizing the intent and tactics behind marketing messages can help us make more informed choices. This is especially crucial when we consider how the advertising industry is targeting children and youths.

Marketing to Children

Marketers target children not just because children influence their parents' buying decisions, but also because the child will grow up to be an adult consumer with buying power. It's about cultivating brand loyalty. While there are rules governing advertising on TV and magazines, there are no rules as yet on Internet advertising. Online marketing to children is an area which advertisers are increasingly leveraging on to engage these digital natives who spend much of their time online.

Some of the more insidious ways in which marketers target kids are through viral ads that are designed to be passed along to friends, or getting kids to play "advergames" in virtual worlds and immersive websites. Many of these games encourage the young consumers to "Challenge a friend" or "Share the game" via email, and in the process, give away their friends' information. It is important for parents to guide their children on exercising good judgement and making wise decisions online, and to care about protecting their privacy.



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