Those of us in the business of mobile marketing take it for granted that most people have mobile phones and that sending advertising messages to those phones is a brilliant idea.
But it is staggering when we actually stop and think about how many kids are walking around with mobile devices.
According to a study by The Yankee Group, more than 50 percent of 13-17 year-olds today own mobile phones, while some estimates say that two-thirds of all American children have them.
A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the number of 8-18 year-olds with mobile phones jumped from 39 percent in 2004 to 66 percent 2009.
And according to that same study, this age group spends 20 percent of its media consumption time on a mobile device.
Ready for another shocker? Twenty one percent of 8-10 year-olds have mobile phones.
Statistics like this are enough to convince media buyers across the country that mobile marketing is best way to reach this audience, and technically speaking, it is.
But is it moral?
Legally, nobody under 18 can opt-in to a promotion without a parent's permission, but it's impossible to ensure that parents are actually giving their blessings, so any savvy 13 year-old can respond to a call-to-action that she sees on television or on signage at the mall.
Certainly, as parents, few of us would dismiss the blessings bestowed on us by technology that allows us to stay in closer touch with our children than ever before.
And most of us recognize that mobile phones can be an effective learning tool to teach kids responsibility in terms of staying in touch, budgeting, understanding limits and other important lessons in maturity.
It is also a great discipline device, because parents can take the phone away from their children as a consequence for misbehaving, and restore phone privileges as an incentive for good behavior.
But marketing to those children is a different story.
Tweens and teens are on the receiving end of an ideal conduit for advertising messages, but the mobile marketing industry is still scratching its head wondering how to reach them in a morally responsible manner.
As the mother of four children and the CEO of a mobile marketing company, I feel I am in a unique position to address this.
One of the most troubling -- and expensive -- issues for parents is the easy availability of premium SMS (ring tones, videos, games, apps).
Kids of any age can sign up for these goodies and generate hundreds of dollars in charges.
There are numerous Web sites that offer this, and they do not require a credit card, just a mobile phone number. The charges appear on the phone bill.
All kids have to do is state that they are at least 13 years old and have a parent's permission. So in a situation like this, what is the role of the parents versus the role of the advertiser?
It is a sticky question, because the advertisers are usually following the letter of the law via the posting of terms and conditions, rules and disclaimers.
If that is true, then, perhaps rightly so, the responsibility falls to the parents.
Through the use of content-blocking software and the ability of some carriers to block premium SMS, this kind of activity can be controlled.
But we still have to find ways to help our kids use today's technology as a learning tool rather than a source of rampant consumerism.
One way to do this is to research Web sites, apps and other mobile offerings that have educational value.
For example, my 11 year-old participates in educational games on his mobile device, including word jumbles, math puzzles and contests based on history or science questions.
The brands behind these activities are usually textbook publishers, schools or libraries.
Granted, he is only 11, and in a few years he will lose interest in these games, but for the moment, I would like to think that he is being conditioned to use his phone for deeper pursuits.
It was not that long ago when parents worried about how to monitor the content their kids could view on computer screens.
It was not that difficult, because the computer was typically in the living room and we could supervise what our kids were looking at.
But the game has changed since then, because mobile devices are private, and we cannot watch over our kids' shoulders all the time.
I am often asked by clients how they can market directly to tweens using the mobile channel.
In addition to making sure the campaign is within legal parameters, I suggest educational content that would not be offensive to parents or create a negative association for the brand.
For example, a national pizza franchise could run a contest where kids count how many olives are on the pizza, or practice fractions calculating how many slices are in a pizza pie.
As a parent, I would encourage my child to participate, and would very likely purchase a pizza from the pizza franchise as a result.
We cannot forget how influential kids and tweens are when it comes to parents' purchasing decisions.
All of us -- parents and marketers -- have to step up for the cause of adding true value to mobile marketing.
As a mother, I take this as a challenge to become a better parent.
As a mobile marketer, I see it as an opportunity to continually come up with more creative and socially responsible campaigns for my clients.
Author: mmaglobal / Posted: 11-05-2011