Teenagers are strongly affected by Internet marketing in a way that has yet to be addressed by scientific research or government regulation, a group of scientists has warned in a review published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
“As the media marketplace continues its rapid transformation, becoming a ubiquitous presence in young people’s lives, further academic research is needed to understand fully the nature, scope, and extent of interactive advertising’s impact on youth,” the researchers wrote.
According to the paper, the United States still regulates advertising to children and teenagers based on studies conducted in the 1970s on how television influences young minds. The authors said that the Internet is a fundamentally different medium than television, however.
“In the Internet era, children and teens are not passive viewers; they are active participants and content creators in an interactive digital environment that pervades their personal and social lives,” they wrote.
Advertisers have specifically targeted teenagers for Internet marketing, particularly of food and drink. Teenagers are significantly more impulsive in their purchasing than younger children or older adults, and spend an average of $46 online each month. They are significantly more likely to participate in online marketing campaigns than other age groups.
Self-imposed regulations by junk food and other manufacturers fall far short of what is needed, researchers said. They criticized these initiatives, in part, for being “narrowly focused” on children younger than 12.
“Although this model may have been appropriate when television was the primary advertising medium, it has limited utility for addressing the changing media and marketing landscape. Nor does it provide guidance for understanding the role of adolescents in the digital marketplace,” the scientists wrote.
The federal government recently made moves to address junk food marketing to teenagers when it created the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children. The mandate of this group includes all children through the age of 17.