Advertising, marketing, and consumerism and children/youth online

Children and youth are a huge potential market for corporations.

CBS News reported that, in 2007, companies spent almost $17 billion marketing to children. [1] In 2011, meanwhile, EPM Communications found that the 13- to 19-year-old cohort of American teens possessed approximately $200 billion of buying power, making them a significant market for advertisers and corporations. [2]

The Internet provides advertisers access to this market in a whole new way. Children and youth can be directly reached through games, advertisements, and brand pages on social networking sites. And, children and youth are attracted to the Internet in general, and some of these corporate pages in particular, because they are fun and engaging.

Youth play online in worlds that are sponsored by a variety of corporations and may or may not be explicitly commercial. For example, many corporate sites use cartoon mascots or words such as “clubhouse” or “village” to create an inclusive, personalized environment rather than seeming like a commercial or an advertisement. Online word games or printable coloring pages may include logos or names of trademarked words or branded characters, attempting to build brand awareness from an early age. [3]

Another way in which corporate pages generate information and target advertising is by gaining access to user’s social networks. When a user likes a brand or a corporate page, they are giving that corporation complete access to their personal information and social network, providing valuable information about demographics and connections. Many youth are unaware of this, and “like” or “friend” several corporate pages, both to demonstrate their interests and to help increase their friend count.

Corporate pages or sponsored online worlds such as Club Penguin also teach certain lessons about online communication. For example, while children are instructed not to use inappropriate or offensive language when communicating with other members, as well as not to disclose any personal information while instant messaging, they are also told that they should be communicating with the corporate moderators whenever requested. As a result, youth are learning to share much more with corporations in online worlds than they would share with a stranger.

The most recent findings from MediaSmarts' Young Canadians in a Wired World research study indicated that children and youth are now fully aware of the commercial nature of many of the websites they used, as opposed to earlier cycles which suggested that many young Canadians viewed corporations and brands as trustworthy and were not completely attuned to their profit-oriented intentions. Despite the increased awareness among many young Canadians, there are still a number of sites aimed towards children and youth that have a major commercial component.



[1] Lagorio, C. (2009). Resources : Marketing to kids. CBS News. Retrieved 11 May 2012 from
[2] EPM Communications. (2011). Teen spending & behaviour. Accessed 11 May 2012 from
[3] MediaSmarts. “Online Marketing Strategies”.