A Canadian Small Business Guide to Advertising Children’s Products

by Emily Retherford

4 min read

Selling products for children can be a tricky area to navigate when it comes to marketing. Naturally, you want to market directly to your target audience. You need to know that Canadian advertising standards limit the types of advertisements that can be aimed at children below the age of 12 to help protect children from pressure induced by popular media. There are many advertising strategies that your business can use to reach the children’s market while still being compliant with Canadian standards and ethical practices.

Advertising to Parents First

A simple and popular way to reach the children’s market — while avoiding the pitfalls of advertising directly to children — is to aim your marketing materials at parents. This is a great way to drive purchases especially if your product is intended for very young children, as parents are the ones making all the household purchasing decisions anyway. You need to be considerate of the nature of your product, as well, when marketing to parents. Keep in mind that the average parent wants to provide their child with healthy, constructive products. Your product can likely do better with the parental demographic if your audience perceives it as something that can positively enrich their children’s lives. Educational games, books, and toys that encourage safe physical activity can be the easiest to market in this case. Portraying a product as useful to both parent and child is another good strategy for marketing to parents. An advertisement for a car seat might draw parents in with descriptions of high-tech, stress-tested safety features, while visually enticing children with bright imagery and a kid-friendly design. Parents are also much more conscious of monetary value than children. Ensuring that your product is appropriate for marketing to children and parents begins with designing a product that offers a high level of quality and value for the price point.

When to Advertise to Children

In some cases, it’s acceptable to market directly to children as long as your advertisements follow the Canadian laws and standards for marketing to the under-12 demographic.Whether you can target your advertisements directly at children or not largely depends on the nature of your product. Note that TV advertisements for food products are a special case in Canada. The Canadian Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative is a voluntary program that forbids its participating companies from advertising food products to children under the age of 12 unless the products in question can reasonably be considered a healthy choice. The companies participating in the initiative as of 2017 include Kraft, Kellogg and General Mills.Things like pop, candy bars, and confectionery are heavily discouraged from being advertised to children under 12 years of age. In the case of items like cereals, breads, or yogurt, the onus is on the advertiser to identify where and how the product fits into an overall healthy lifestyle. Cereal companies often do this by noting that the product is “part of a complete breakfast,” and visually indicating other healthy foods that should be combined with the cereal for a rounded meal. Laws surrounding online advertisements are less well-defined as of 2017, but many Canadian parents, along with research groups like the Heart and Stroke Foundation are lobbying against the proliferation of online advertisements for children’s junk foods. In February 2017, the Heart and Stroke Foundation recommended a full ban on marketing to children under the age of 15. A similar ban is already in place in the U.K., so use caution, and don’t discount the possibility of child-focused marketing materials becoming obsolete in the near future.

How to Safely and Effectively Advertise to Children

When marketing to children, be sure to follow the parameters outlined in Canada’s Broadcast Code for Advertising to Children. Besides more general advertising ethics points such as avoiding unsubstantiated claims about your product, the code also outlines parameters specific to children’s advertisements in Canada. Keep in mind that children are not as well-equipped as their adult counterparts to think critically about the advertisements they are exposed to. In convincing children to seek out your product, you should never imply that the product can enhance children’s social standing, or make them smarter or “cooler,” than other children. Likewise, never imply that not having the product means that a child is less smart or less worthy of friendship. If your product is a creative toy that allows the child to build, paint, model, or otherwise construct an original object, make sure your marketing materials offer examples of finished projects that a child would be able to attain by themselves. Suppose your product is a hobby painting easel with a selection of paints — your advertisements could show a finished painting of a tree, a sun, or a simple animal, but you wouldn’t want to create a replica of the Mona Lisa. Note that advertisements directed at children shouldn’t directly implore the child to purchase the object. Imperative phrases like “buy now,” or “don’t delay,” are more difficult for young children to ignore. Presenting your product in a fun and attractive manner should be more than enough incentive to draw purchases. Advertising children’s products requires a bit more planning and strategy than advertising to adults, but by following the necessary guidelines you can ensure that your customers are happy and your business benefits.

References & Resources

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