Digital and social media adverts are much less visible to parents than TV advertising. That's one of the reasons we launched #Idontbuyit - a conversation with teenagers about social media advertising, and a set of free resources for parents.
We want to highlight the potential impact that digital advertising is having on teenagers and to raise awareness of the sheer volume of advertising to which young people are exposed. According to social media management platform Sprout Social, the average Instagram user will see one ad in every three to four posts as they scroll through their newsfeed, with the numbers significantly higher if paid-for posts by social media influencers were included.
On top of all of this, the sheer quantity of available products adds to the relentless pressure to buy. Online shopping giant ASOS for example, has over 1,200 different types of white trainers alone for sale on their online store.
What you can do
Research from Ofcom shows that young people find it difficult to spot when they’re being advertised to, especially on social media. We have developed resources to help you protect your teenagers from the most harmful impacts of social media advertising and guide them towards a healthier and more fulfilling way of living.
We asked some secondary school students to share their personal experiences of social media advertising. Check out what they had to say in our 'Beyond Consumerism' films.
Social media advertising blamed for teenagers 58 million trainer mountain
Pressure on teenagers to spend and consume is fuelled by the rise in online advertising, which now eclipses all other forms of advertising combined. In 2017, the overall spend of online advertising -much of it highly targeted and opaque- reached almost £12 billion, dwarfing the £4.8 billion spent on TV.
And it works. UK teenagers own a staggering 58 million trainers, a new survey by Global Action Plan has revealed, with teens confessing that almost a third of these shoes - 19 million - were unworn in the last three months. This huge trainer mountain is a symptom of the relentless pressure put on teenagers to consume, increasingly fuelled by digital and social media advertising.
The transition of advertising from mainstream media such as TV where parents can clearly see adverts, to digital media which is largely hidden from parent’s view behind a child’s phone screen, is all too evident in footwear advertising. In the last year, data analytics company Nielsen reported that digital spend on promoting trainers in the UK reached over £10 million, compared to less than £2 million on television. It is likely that the £10m figure is hugely underestimated because it excludes advertising on Google and social media channels such as Facebook, for which figures aren’t available.
This pressure to spend is also bad for our planet. The CO2 emissions produced to create 58 million trainers is over 409 Million kgs CO2e - the equivalent of circumnavigating the globe in a medium sized car almost 50 thousand times. The pressure to spend, spend, spend, also appears to be causing conflict within families, with 40% of parents saying that conversations about buying trainers causes arguments. London parents experienced the highest levels of conflict at 58%.
The wild west of social media advertising - from opaque influencer ads, to age-inappropriate promotion, to the sheer volume of adverts to which young people, often ill-equipped to resist consumerist forces, are exposed - needs urgently reviewing. We are calling on the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to urgently bring forward a promised review on how online advertising is regulated, to better protect teenagers and the planet.