Advertising online is often disguised, making it tricky for young people to recognise when they are being sold to. Promotions often appear in the form of a game, quiz, competition, video, social media post or news story.  Here are the tell-tale signs to help you and your kids detect adverts online.

1. Ad labels which are difficult to spot

Adverts and promotions are *supposed* to be clearly labelled. Common labels are “ad”, “#ad”, “sponsored”, “sp” or “advertorial”. Sometimes the labels are less clear, for example “brand partner”, “brought to you by” or “contribution from”. These ads may be designed to look like an editorial feature – and may even have been put together by the editorial team itself. The ad labels are often so tiny that they are easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled…!

2. Brand’s websites, games and videos aren’t labelled as ads

Social media posts, or websites that come from a brand themselves – such as Nike or Lego – don’t have to be labelled. So if someone you follow on social media shares a branded game, quiz, competition or video, it will appear in your feed without an ad label.

3. Advertisers pay “people like you” to plug their products

Peer recommendations are highly valued amongst children and teens, so advertisers actively enlist teens to promote their products. If someone with a large social media following (known as an “influencer”) mentions a product or links to a brand’s website, the chances are they have been paid to do this. Some advertisers also encourage teens to share their interactions about the products too, offering freebies, competition prizes or other rewards.

4. “Earned” promotions

If a vlogger mentions that they have been gifted or sent a product to review, then it’s likely that they have been given the product for free in return for a favourable review. Sometimes these gifts can be pretty valuable – for example a free holiday or top-of-the range smartphone.

5. Entertaining spaces to make you feel good about a product

Look for words like “world”, “zone”, “town” and “planet”. Companies create online spaces designed to make children and young people feel they are visiting a special world meant just for them.

5. Plus…

Other tell-tale signs its an ad include prices, the word “FREE” or a brand name prominently displayed. Look out for slogans such as Nike’s “Just do it” or “Every little helps” from Tesco. A call to action like “buy now” or “sign up today” is another sure sign you’re being sold to.

Get familiar with the tricks of the trade

See if you and your child (or your class) can spot examples of these tried-and-tested advertising techniques. Have any of these ever worked on you?

  • association with someone cool or admired
  • limited-time offers create a sense of urgency
  • games, quizzes, videos, humour to generate positive feelings about a product
  • sharability encouraging you to share with your friends
  • humour to make you laugh and generate positive feelings about a product
  • testimonials or endorsements from a celebrity or ‘influencer’
  • competitions, prizes, gifts to grab your attention and generate positive feelings
  • sales or price promotions to create a sense of good value
  • fear increasing awareness of a problem or insecurity you may have
  • must-have playing on your fear of missing out

Read next…

Spotting advertising online: Why we need to educate young people

Be Ad-Aware! Chats To Have With Your Child

Is Your Class Ad-Savvy? 7 Ideas for Teachers 

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