By Marcus Leach

Turner Media Innovations and The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) UK have published results of the first major industry study into how children respond to online advertising.

The study, conducted using a combination of research techniques such as eye-tracking technology (that measures where on a page a respondent is engaging) and consumer focus groups, showed that children aged 6-12 are very selective in the advertising they respond to as well as the types of sites they visit.

Eye-tracking has been used to research which parts of a website are the most appealing to audiences for several years. Combining the two methodologies allowed the research to understand what kids said they did when online, and to compare that to their observed behaviour.

The research reveals that unlike the typical surfing behaviour of adults, children tend to limit themselves to a few selected entertainment sites; this is reinforced by UK Online Measurement (UKOM) data showing how kids’ entertainment sites - such as Club Penguin, Cartoon Network and Children’s BBC - have the highest concentration of 6-12 year old visitors.

On a mission for fun, kids don’t want to be interrupted so, unlike adults, they are unlikely to engage in random navigation and click-through behaviour. The researchers labelled this “considered behaviour”’.

When it comes to advertising, children aged 6-12 are accustomed to the presence of advertising on most websites they visit - as they are with advertising on other media.

Whilst they don’t know their names, they recognise online display ad formats such as leaderboards, skyscrapers and mid page units (MPUs) from their shape, positioning and imagery. They are less likely to find ads intrusive if they are engaging such as rich media, pre-roll and in game formats that don’t require them to navigate away from the page.

The recently published Bailey Review — which looks at the potential impact of commercial practices upon children, including within advertising - highlighted the important role that parents play in monitoring their child’s internet use.

The Turner Media Innovations/IAB UK report reinforces the message, showing the impact parents have on kids’ “considered behaviour’’. Parents view the internet as an entertainment tool for kids, consequently educating their children from a young age about clicking on links, the difference between content and advertising, and inputting personal information online.

The familiarity and trust that parents have experienced with brands offline — whether it’s a TV channel, a high street store or a toy manufacturer —plays a significant role in influencing the websites their kids visit.

For example, sites that came up in the research as being trusted included well-known brands Lego and Build a Bear. TV channel websites are seen as safe and trusted options by parents for their kids. This also meant the advertising associated with these known and trusted brands has more credibility.

“This research highlights children’s “considered behaviour” when using online sites. They are online to have fun and don’t want to be interrupted while doing this, which is why they don’t see ads as intrusive if they are entertaining and don’t require them to navigate away from what they are doing,” Simon Cox, Vice President, Turner Media Innovations said.

Nick Stringer, IAB UK’s Director of Regulatory Affairs, added that such issues concerning children and advertising should be addressed.

“The Bailey Review recommended how issues relating to marketing to children should be addressed," he said.

"This research builds on this, revealing the role that both parents and brands have in creating a trusted online environment allowing kids to be kids, where they can play games, are entertained and can understand the difference between content and advertising.”

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