Learning Apps and Marketing to Children

Parents want the best for their children.

Many turn to “learning apps” that their children can “play” on phones, pads and computers.  But, most parents might be dismayed to find out that 95% of apps marketed to children contain at least one form of advertising directed at children. And, often, these ads are not age appropriate. 

An October 2018 study:

The University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital researchers reviewed 135 apps. They discovered that children’s “play” was frequently interrupted by pop-up video ads.  In  addition, they found persuasion by commercial characters to make in-app purchases, and overt banner ads.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time before 2 years old.

They recommend 1 hour of screen time for 2-5 years old. These recommendations are for educational and recreational usage.

But what we hadn’t realized until this study came out was that much of that limited screen time contains marketing directly to children too young to understand the difference between a “game” and a “commercial.”  This is especially true when the ads are designed to look like part of the app the child is using.

The study found that the ads occurred at similar rates for both educational and recreational apps.

However, there were more ads in free apps versus purchased apps. This creates a possible disparity between children from families with lower income.  These children are more likely to use free apps, and children from families with higher income are more likely to purchase apps.

There are regulations that constrain TV advertising towards children. But, there are no regulations for digital advertising directed at children.  Not only does marketing directed at young children impact play and creativity, it can possibly reduce the effectiveness of “learning apps.”

What’s the take away?

learning apps and marketing to childrenOne recommendation the study made is for parents is to pay attention to what apps they consider “educational.” Perhaps use the app first to determine if the level of marketing is acceptable for your family.

In addition, apps used solely for recreation should also be monitored. Marketing directed at children, especially junk food marketing, has been linked to increased obesity rates of children.

Finally, increased scrutiny by parents is important simply to help children distinguish between content and marketing so they can grow up to be more critical consumers.

More on digital marketing of junk food to children: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-food-who/hidden-digital-ads-pushing-children-to-eat-fatty-food-health-experts-warn-idUSKBN12Z1P5

Link to summary of research article: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181030091452.htm