Many websites collect aggregate data from the children who visit them; however the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires parental permission before children ages 12 and younger can provide personal data that may be used in future advertisements directed to them (Montgomery, 2001; Chapter 5).
The Internet is a form of measured media that provides many opportunities for marketers to reach children and adolescents about food choices. Online interactive technology provides the means for companies to attract and develop one-to-one relationships with youth through websites for games, contests, discounts, and prizes. Many websites require registration to visit; therefore, all personal information such as a child’s or teen’s e-mail address, home address, age, and phone number are stored. Children can be sent promotional items, such as newsletters and coupons, to their e-mail address for redemption. “Cookies” can also be placed on individual computers to trace the online activities of a child or adolescent. The tracking makes it relatively easy for marketers to connect advertising messages to youth at popular websites. Online advertising to older children and teens is becoming more common on sites where they purchase MP3 music files to download onto their digital music players. Websites with e-mail, chat rooms, and instant messaging capabilities are also very popular among adolescents and with marketers for targeting purposes. Nearly three-fourths of online teens use instant messaging (Lenhart et al., 2001).
With the advent of personal video recorders and TiVo that can limit exposure to, and the cost-effectiveness of, traditional commercials, creative alternatives are spawned. For example, many branded products marketed to youth maintain websites that are created to supplement traditional forms of mass media advertising, and they are much less expensive to create and sustain. These “branded environments” are popular with older children, tweens, and teens, and use a range of online activities to keep them on the website (Montgomery, 2001). Many popular youth television programs encourage children and youth to visit the website advertised during the end-of-show credits to provide an additional experience with the audience where they find tailored messages. These websites use attractive language, humor that appeals to teens, and interactive games that are likely to increase their appeal to underage youth (Williams et al., 1997). The video news release, in which companies circulate stories about its products, is another form of virtual advertising that is used on television by many news organizations (Mazur, 1996). This kind of technique is less expensive than traditional advertisements and not labeled as an advertisement for the public, which views it as a news program.