Association Sets 'No Minors Under 16' Standard

The question we asked last week, How young is too young to be a marketer?, has now been answered. Under 16 is too young.

"We've been concerned about the issue of marketing on the backs of minors for a long time," said VBMA President Brian Clark. "We believe the legislation offered by Rep. Festa is an important step toward protecting kids from exploitation, and we encourage all of our word-of-mouth industry colleagues to join us and take a stand on this critical issue."

(read more inside)

"The Massachusetts legislation is addressing the very concerns that the VBMA's been raising for months," continued Clark. "Our standard goes even further than the proposed legislation because, as marketers, we recognize the inherent difficulties in verifying "parental consent" for children online. Simply put, it's safer for kids -- and more honorable for marketers -- to quit using kids in marketing efforts, period."

It's not often one sees "honorable" and "marketer" mentioned in the same breath, admit it's giving you a warm fuzzy feeling inside. It seems terribly logical to me, if you are not old enough to drive a moped or play hide the salami, then you really aren't old enough to be bellowing out marketing messages for major corporations either.

Now, reading the Herald today I find another itch that needs scratching... Online advertising tops £653m, great news.

The proliferation of broadband, snappier
advertising campaigns that were spawned by the largely sex-based viral adverts that previously targeted young single males, and fragmented
radio and television advertising have been cited as reasons. Viral
advertising, where often a spoof advert not connected to a company
circulates the internet, is considered as having bolstered the medium
for selling goods. The recent spoof for a Ford car, in which Ford had
no involvement, that showed a cat being decapitated by a sun
roof was given as an example of how illicit advertising has reached a
mass circulation via the internet.

I've said it before and I'll link to it again: Viral marketings worst nightmare - Hoaxes. Years after the Ford Ka cat decapitation viral, where Ogilvy protested that they had nothing to do with it, and the ad leaked out on the web by accident, it seems people still won't believe them. Even mythbuster Snopes doesn't know what to make of the Ogilvy official denial. If everyone is suspicious of virals ads being "leaked" on purpose, real fake ads such as the Bryan Adams Vomit comet, could do some real damage. Does the industry really want to arm the anti-advertising crowd which such volatile ammo?

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caffeinegoddess's picture

It's disturbing that legislation has to be created to keep kids from becoming corporate mouth pieces. I guess self-regulation isn't enough.

In regards to the viral ads, I think that the path a lot of advertising is taking- virals, product placements, etc- is leading people down the path of cynicism, which will make them think that everything they see is an attempt to sell them something, no matter if it's a "real" fake ad or a "fake" fake ad.

AnonymousCoward's picture

Actually, those of us in the VBMA are still keen on the idea of industry self-regulation. What's unusual about the Mass. legislation is that it is an amendment of their labor laws, which seems appropriate given the "pseudo-employment" aspect of just those practitioners that deal in incentivized word-of-mouth. Most practitioners outside of that incentivized niche tend to take a stronger line than even the proposed legislation (which would just require parental consent if the "agent" was under 16 years old.)


Brian Clark
President, VBMA

caffeinegoddess's picture

I still don't see how "parental consent" makes using kids under the age of 16 to shill via word-of-mouth right. Does that mean that if an 8 year-old gets the "a-ok" from mum that they will be able to spread the word for some company? How about just not targeting kids under the age of 16 to be "agents" (as you call them)? Is there really a need to have kids under 16 spreading the word of some product? If they want money let them get a paper route.

AnonymousCoward's picture

Personally, I don't either, Caffeinegoddess. That's why my quote is in that release saying that VBMA feels a hands-off approach on using minors as "shills" is best practice the industry should adopt. That's why the proposed legislation seems like a good idea, but hardly a replacement for self-regulation (which reach some higher test than just "not illegal," don't you think?)

I used "agents" only because I don't know WHAT to call that segment of the industry ... well, nothing I could call it publicly. "Incentivized consumer marketers" might be as good a term as any.

Caffeinegoddess: you realize that I'm on the side of being highly critical of those business models, right? My personal practice is far, far away from that kind of incentivized buzz (and looks alot more like "branded entertainment".)

To be honest, asking high school kids to "shill" a product to make up for insufficient funding of school's extracurricular activities makes similar noises of dis-ease :)

caffeinegoddess's picture

That's good to hear. Although I've heard a difference of opinion coming from other word-of-mouth organizations. And I just quoted the "agents" bit because I couldn't think of a better term either ;)

And I wasn't attacking you just seems that there are plenty who are ready and willing to bring anyone under the age of 18 onboard to shill for them. I even think 16 is a bit young for a cut-off point, as they are still minors. I also think that parent consent for under 16 is still not right either. But I suppose that's part of the legislation which is in line with minor's working (for which you need to get a permit, and parent consent to get a job of any kind). I just hope that's not a loopholet that gets taken advantage of by some.

Not only that but from what I've seen and heard there are also a lot who don't want any transparency at all in regards to this kind of thing which I think is very dangerous, especially in the long haul.

AnonymousCoward's picture

Ah, yes. The elephants in the room. Well, I shouldn't speak for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, but the impression I'm getting from members of their organization is that their current ethics document that sets the age at which consent is no longer required at 13 (!!) won't see that in the next revision. I sure hope that ends up being the case, because that seems just crazy.

And "agents" is as convienent a term as any since it's the term used by a notable company that has had bad press about minors and these kinds of incentivized "sales networks" in the past. It's interesting that it's that company's "home state" that's first in addressing the issue legislatively.

And I totally agree with you that "best practices and acceptible ethics" should set a bar even higher than "legally required." I have fears that in the same way spam and maybe 500 offenders (and even the weak-handed CAN-SPAM law) cast a long-term stigma on legitimate email publishing, some of the really good things about buzz and viral techniques will get similarly stigmitized by what is really only a handful of practitioners.

I'm all for transparency in regards to these kinds of things. I think much of buzz practice is about *really* winning the fandom of the audience (instead of just interrupting them with a pitch). That's never going to work if it's not a netiquette-based approach. There's plenty of room to suprise and joke with that audience, but rude folk generally don't win friends and influence people.

adlib's picture

I'm surprised nobody brought up child labour laws. There are plenty of restrictions on kids under the age of 18 on when children can work and what jobs they can do - advertising is a job just like the others and should be treated no different.

Once a youth reaches 18 years of age, he or she is no longer subject to the federal youth employment and child labor law provisions. Makes sense.