In the U.S., the average child watches about 16,000 television commercials in just one year. Although there isn’t anything illegal about marketing messages to children in the U.S., for some reason it feels a little icky.

Critics claim advertising to children trains them to impulse buy and choose products for all the wrong reasons. Some even go so far to say that it contributes obesity or substance abuse.

makeupAs a result, you don’t want to be the person to make the suggestion, but you know the best way to move your client’s product off the shelf is by inciting a “but, mommy… PLEASE!?” moment.

That’s easier said than done in the personal care industry. Even in the world of cosmetics, marketers have to be careful about the way they communicate to children.

Beauty? Children? Huh?

Take for instance, sunscreen. Most consumers are unaware that their sunscreen is regulated by the FDA as a drug.

sheaThis makes creating educational campaigns about childhood healthy sun protection habits quite difficult, especially when the FDA mandates sunscreen is kept out of the reach out of children.

So what is a marketer to do? I’ve identified three ways brands can effectively market to children without the ick-factor.

1. Identify Your Age Group. UNESCO defines early childhood as ages 0-8, and for the most part, age 12 is commonly considered the cut-off. Yet, FDA hasn’t commented. In that case, many personal care companies target high school students, especially for regulated products like acne cream or contact lenses. And why not? At that age, teens can effectively recognize advertising and understand the intentions behind it. Plus, what teenager wants acne and glasses?

sunscreen2. Get Mom on Your Side. Mom is probably the most marketed-to woman on the planet. And rightfully so. In most situations she’s the primary buyer, especially when it comes to her child’s needs. A strategic and thoughtful way to affect children’s behavior is by partnering with mom. Many of our campaigns make mom the hero. The Coppertone Making the Sunscreen Grade program, for example, armed moms with tools to protect their children from the sun at school, during recess and on the playing field. 

3. Consult a Children’s Advocacy Organization. The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) promotes responsible advertising to children under the age of 12, and they’re open to working with brands. If child-directed promotions are part of your campaign, be cognizant of hot button issues and safeguard your program. CARU will work with brands to oversee ad development and ensure you meet their core principles.

At the end of the day, we all still have a lot of heart for those cereal characters we grew up with, like Tony the Tiger or Cap’n Crunch. And while there are certainly concerns around how we as marketers communicate with children, there are plenty of ethical avenues to reach that goal.