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  • Understanding COPPA: What Smart Marketers Need to Know

    Understanding COPPA: What Smart Marketers Need to Know

    With an understanding of COPPA regulations, you can still reach and interact with kids in an organic, legal way that’s great for kids and for your bottom line.

    COPPA. Five scary letters that scare brands away from marketing to kids online. It’s not a bad thing. If you’re a parent, you’re probably thrilled that there’s someone out there thinking about your kids’ online safety. But as a brand, you know the kids are out there. You know they’d LOVE to engage with your brand. But those five letters – C O P P A – they’re scaring you from reaching your own core audience.

    So let’s get started:

    What is COPPA anyway?

    You probably think COPPA has something to do with protecting kids from inappropriate content online. Nope. Or cyberbullying. No again. Or maybe you think it’s about protecting kids from child predators. Well, Sort of. COPPA is the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act, the set of FTC regulations that governs how websites gather information from kids under the age of 13.

    COPPA says that websites can’t gather any Personally Identifiable Information about kids without their parents’ permission. No phone numbers, addresses, first and last name combos – and with the 2015 updates to the law, no faces or voices, either.

    COPPA protects kids’ data from marketers

    It’s really that simple: COPPA protects kids from sites gathering selling their data to the highest bidder.

    What COPPA doesn’t do is tell you what you can SHOW kids. True, there are guidelines for that, also, known as CARU (they’re suggestions from the Children’s Advertising Review Unit). But those rules are NOT laws, and are almost exclusively concerned with how ads about food are directed at children.

    If kids are your core audience, can you still get useful information about them so you can start developing relationships with them? You can, all you need is  VPC – verifiable parental consent. COPPA has several different ways they allow you to get that and once you do you can interact with kids to your heart’s (and brand’s) content.

    Why marketers should care about COPPA

    Sites like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and pretty much every other social networking site are legally banned from allowing kids under 13 to have accounts. It’s not a rule, it’s the law. Now we all know that kids are on those sites – which is perfectly legal – again, COPPA is about what you TAKE from kids, not what you SHOW them. But they are not allowed to have accounts (Facebook’s new kids messenger app and YouTube Kids both rely on parents to set up accounts for their children). So if they do have accounts, they have lied about their age to get them (67% of parents help their kids to lie about this. Go figure!). That means that marketers aren’t marketing to who they think they are: think about it, how do you market to an 11 year old when she’s lied and said she’s 25. You don’t really know how old she is.

    So in a weird way, complying with COPPA helps you. When you do, you know who the kids you’re interacting with are: their age, their home state, their interests. And if you’ve gotten VPC, you know it legally – and you’re good to go!

    So what’s a marketer to do?

    It’s easy: familiarize yourself with the rules, get verifiable parental consent before taking any information at all from kids, and work with a marketing agency or ad network that knows and complies with COPPA, too.

    The key thing to know about COPPA is this: once kids have parental permission – verified parental consent – they can legally share their information with your brand.

    What you do with that information is up to you – but best practices dictate you don’t share or sell that information – even in aggregate. Use it to inform your own businesses: how old are the kids interested in your brand? Where do they live? What can you do with that information to help enhance the brand so it’s better for kids and thus your business?

    COPPA doesn’t have to be a barrier to reaching and connecting with kids. Know the law, follow it, and both your brand and the kids you’re trying to reach will be the better for it.

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