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Silly Bandz is one of the most successful children's product launches in recent years. What's more, the product provided a blueprint for marketers who want to use Facebook to target kids. Silly Bandz's Facebook Page now has more than 1 million fans, and the product became a runaway hit without any traditional advertising.
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One problem, though: Kids aren't supposed to be on Facebook.
Facebook's official age cutoff is 13. Unless you believe that teens and adults are the primary audience for Silly Bandz, something's amiss.
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Of course, Silly Bandz isn't the only tot-skewing brand with a large Facebook presence. SpongeBob SquarePants has 29.3 million fans, putting him in Lady Gaga territory. "SpongeBob has such a broad fan base that more than a third of the show’s viewing audience is adults," says a rep for Nickelodeon, which airs SpongeBob. "We want to entertain those fans by bringing the property to life on all available media. Facebook is for 13+, and they actively manage and regulate the platform accordingly." (Reps from Brainchild Products, the Toledo, Ohio firm that markets Silly Bandz, could not be reached for comment on that brand's Facebook audience.)
Despite Nickelodeon's assertion, it's no secret that kids sneak onto Facebook. A recent survey by Consumer Reports found that there are 7.5 million kids under the age of 13 on the social network.
"While experts agree that there is no 'perfect' solution when it comes to verifying ages online, we take a layered approach to preventing children from signing up for our service," reads a statement from Facebook on the issue, which was supplied to Mashable. "We employ technical checks at sign-up and social verification systems after sign-up to help identify people who may be lying about their age so we can take appropriate action. We also encourage users to report people who have falsified their age through the report links found on nearly every page of Facebook."
Even Susan Linn, a vocal critic of marketing to children, concedes that the social network's registration honor system puts the onus on kids and parents to be forthright -- the company doesn't have a way to prove that kids are actually the age they say they are. "If kids are lying to them, there's technically nothing that [Facebook] can do about it," Linn says.
Yet if you're going to consider marketing to kids, you have to contend with critics like Linn, who runs the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy group in Boston. Linn believes that marketing anything to kids, even seemingly harmless toys like Silly Bandz, is unethical because kids haven't developed a sophisticated filtering system. "They don't have the same cognitive processes as adults," she says of kids. "They are not teeny adults. They have notoriously faulty judgment."
That said, you may believe there's nothing wrong with marketing to kids. Perhaps you have the next Silly Bandz or My Keepon up your sleeve, and you don't see any harm in letting kids know about it. In that case, Paul Kurnit has some advice for you. Kurnit, the founder of KidShop, a marketing and communications firm specializing in targeting kids, obviously disagrees with Linn's assertion.
"We often tend to underestimate kids," he says. "They are savvy, trend-aware and trend creators. We can't, nor should we, protect them from the world in which they operate and experience."
Here are three important tips for marketing to kids.
1. Don't Collect Information on Kids Online or Do Business with Sites That Do
As mentioned, Linn and other critics think marketing to kids is unethical, but not illegal. It is, however, illegal to collect any information about kids under the age of 13. If you do, you run afoul of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which went into effect in 2000.
2. Target Influencers
Influencers have more power over kids than probably any other demo. The older you get, the more you try to think for yourself. Kurnit says a common strategy is to feature kids who are just a little older than your target in ads and such. "A 9-year-old is interested in what the 12-year-old is up to," Kurnit says, "so you cast an 11-year-old."
3. Target "Parents" on Facebook
Though Facebook officially bars kids from joining its network, there are a few social networks out there that are specifically designed for kids including Webkinz, Club Penguin, Togetherville, What's What and ScuttlePad, among others.
Those networks all take pains to shield children from unapproved friends and outside conversations and links, though some are more secure than others.
Not all the networks accept advertising. Webkinz does, but as the company explains, most of the ads on its network are for Webkinz or other products from Ganz, Webkinz's parent company. Moreover, parents have the option of turning off other third-party ads.
Given the limited opportunities for marketers looking to target kids directly on social networks, perhaps it's worth taking a look at Brainchild's strategy once again. As a white paper from Facebook explains, Brainchild used a combination of Facebook ads and "Like" buttons integrated on its site to gain visibility on the network. "Every time someone clicked on one of the ads or liked one of its products, a story was published back to all of his or her friends, creating a powerful viral effect," the paper notes.
When the brand started its campaign, it had about 400,000 fans, but wanted to get to 1 million. Over the course of 33 days, the company gained 250,000 new fans at a cost-per-click of 4 cents, with ads targeting users who had "liked" Hello Kitty and Justin Bieber. "Our objectives are usually pretty simple: to get our new products and announcements in front of the right demographic," Brainchild CEO Robert Croak is quoted as saying in the paper.
Croak didn't elaborate on who that demographic is.
Series supported by Oneupweb
The Behind the Social Media Campaign Series is supported by Oneupweb, a relentless digital marketing agency focused on search, social, and design for mid-to-enterprise level brands. Download our free digital marketing magazine, The Merge, for ideas to ignite your strategy sessions, and our holiday bonus, “Drinks and Grub from the Digital Hub” cookbook.
This story originally published on Mashable here.