Digital advertising

10 Sep 2018

Digital advertising is a field of marketing that takes place in the online space – such as during movies or on social media – which can be very confusing because of how creative it has become.

What is digital advertising?

Digital or online advertising is a type of marketing and advertising that uses the Internet to send marketing messages to people online. Here are some examples:

  • Adverts that play before you can access a product, e.g., a YouTube video or a news article
  • Sponsored posts on social media platforms, e.g., sponsored photos that look like a normal Facebook post, except you do not follow that company
  • Celebrities who are paid to post about certain brands
  • Email advertisements that market specific brands
  • Search engine marketing (SEM), when businesses bid on certain keywords so that their website appears higher on the results when someone searches that word
  • Sites that function as ads for a company, e.g., Disney games that advertise the Disney brand

Companies can also encourage people to buy things online in very subtle ways. For example, if you go online shopping and click a shirt, phrases like “Last one in stock!” or “20% Discount” might appear. These advertising pitches are not the same for everyone looking at that shirt. Companies collect your data and study your buying patterns to figure out which is most likely to convince you to buy a product. If you are someone who is more likely to want something very few people have, the site automatically puts up “Last one in stock!” and if you like buying things on discount, the site loads “20% Discount”. In reality, there might still be hundreds of that shirt left, and the original price might be the same as the price you pay.

How does digital advertising work?

There are several strategies that digital marketing often uses:

  • Bribe: you get something free if you buy the product, like small toys in cereal packets
  • Game: play a game and win a prize if you buy the product
  • Promise: tells you that the product is the best in the world, will help you make friends, play better, run faster, and all sorts of other promises
  • Story: telling you an interesting story so that you keep watching
  • Joke: making you laugh so that you like the product more
  • Music: catchy jingles or popular songs that make you like the product more
  • Famous people: using popular people so that you think you can be like them if you also use the product
  • Cartoon character: using cartoon characters that you know and like to sell you something
  • Special effects: making the product look better using different lighting or make-up
  • Repeat: playing the same ad so many times that you can’t forget it

Take advantage of teaching moments to explain these concepts. For example, if you notice that many of your students are using one brand of backpack or shoes, you can ask them to think about why they think these are better and how different advertisements have convinced them of this. Or, if Singaporeans are going wild over a new Happy Meal toy, you can start a discussion on how this type of marketing works and why it is so effective.

Why is digital advertising bad?

Digital advertising has the same effect as normal advertising: it makes children want to buy things. By convincing them that they want certain products or services, it drains their parent’s budget. Digital advertising is considered such a widespread risk due to how much time children spend using digital media and social media platforms – it makes this form of advertising impossible to avoid.

It can also be frightening to consider the effects that advertising has on a child’s ideas and thoughts, which are still developing. After all, don’t advertisements of fast food make them want to visit McDonald’s or Pizza Hut more often? Particularly where food is concerned, digital advertising can have negative effects on their health and body image in the longer term.

How can I help my students spot digital advertising?

Since digital marketing can take so many forms, it can be hard to know when it is happening and how to deal with it. Here are a few tips on helping your students understand and manage digital advertising:

  • Start a conversation: if your students are old enough, ask questions like, “Who do you think created this advertisement? Why?” and “What sort of effect do you think it has on you?”
  • Spot advertising messages: you could make it a game for the class to raise any examples of advertising messages they come across them in the media they are watching, e.g., the signboards around the fields of the World Cup games showed several logos of sponsors – ask them to think about how many people, even unconsciously, noticed and were affected by this
  • Explain advertising tricks: point out to them how much bodies get edited on advertisements to promote products (the ‘Dove evolution’ advertisement does a great job of showing these extensive changes) or how much products themselves get ‘touch-ups’, like putting Vaseline on hamburgers so they ‘shine’ better
  • Explain how advertising works: your students might not realise that all their online activity can impact the ads we see – searching about football on Google can cause sports shoes to appear as an advertisement on Instagram because all their information is fed into an algorithm that predicts which ads they are most likely to fall for
  • Talk about peer pressure: lots of advertisements build on unhealthy and unhelpful ideas of what makes someone ‘beautiful’ or ‘popular’ – try to break down these ideas in the classroom to create a space where your students know they do not need to buy certain products or eat certain foods to be interesting, cool, or beautiful