Children’s purchasing behavior ‘significantly impacted’ by social media and mobile apps

Exposure to prompts to make in-app purchases in mobile games has a significant impact on children’s purchasing behaviour, according to a recent study funded by the European Commission involving Dr Giuseppe Veltri, who now works at the University of Leicester Department of Media Communication.

The study examined the impact on children of in-game adverts in advergames, mobile apps and social media games.

The results suggest that children are often exposed to a number of problematic marketing practices in online games, mobile apps and social media sites which are not always understood by the child consumer.

The researchers found that out of the 25 most popular online games, all ‘advergames’, all social media games and half of the games provided through popular application platforms contained embedded or contextual advertisements.

Dr Giuseppe Veltri, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology of Communication at the University of Leicester Department of Media and Communication said: “This is a significant study on an already pressing policy issue. The study demonstrated the large impact that online marketing practices can have on children and the difficulty in managing such effects from the perspective of parents and sheds light on their coping strategies.

“Both these aspects represent a crucial input for policymakers interested in regulating this area.”

Dr Veltri was a member of the London School of Economics and partners consortium in which they were one of the experts that carried out the study.

The study finds that across Europe children do not receive an equal level of protection from the adverse effects of online marketing, given that marketing to children is regulated in a slightly different manner between countries and because parents apply different models of oversight of their children’s online activities.

In general, most parents involved in the study did not see online marketing targeting their children as a major risk, and thought that their children are not affected.

For example, parents in France were found to intervene less in their children’s online activities, while Swedish parents are more actively engaged in their children’s online activities and apply more restrictions.

The research suggests that although parents have an important role in protecting their children online, they are often not prepared to do so.

The findings are based on data collected through various methods including behavioural experiments with children in two countries (The Netherlands and Spain); focus groups with children and with parents in eight countries (UK, Spain, Italy, France, Poland, The Netherlands, Germany and Sweden); a survey with parents in the same eight countries; an in-depth analysis of the most popular games in the main online platforms; a literature review, and a regulatory review covering the 28 EU Member States, Norway and Iceland.

The study confirms the need for a strong and harmonised protection of children as consumers, and it brings new evidence that advances the understanding of children as potentially vulnerable consumers and of marketing practices that can be considered unfair from the perspective of child consumers.

The study also provides evidence to support the ban on product placement in programmes with a significant children audience in the proposed Directive on Audio-Visual Media Services, and is relevant for the ongoing review of EU consumer and marketing law. The study ‘Study on the impact of marketing through social media, online games and mobile applications on children’s behaviour’ is available here:

doi: 10.2818/917506

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