Marketing to kids? Understand COPPA

Last night I had the rare opportunity to chat with another kid marketer in the Boston area about social networks for kids, online communities for kids, privacy,and  COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act).  I say ‘rare’ because  Boston isn’t really considered a mecca for consumer brands much less kid-focused brands and properties.  We’re here but our density is low.

But there are always the dreamers.  The folks who have an idea or dream that involves doing something for kids.  I just saw a Tweet someone passed on that basically says “start a business you are passionate about and you are recession proof.” While I would love to believe that — it sounds good doesn’t? — I have to be a realist.  I’ve seen too many passionate entrepreneurs fail because others don’t share their passion.  Or they can’t find an experienced team. Or they just run into things like bad luck, bad timing, tougher competition, poor partners, etc.

And when your passion revolves around selling something to kids and their parents online, you also run into a little something called COPPA.  Administered by the FTC, COPPA regulates all sites that offer anything online that kids might be interested in.  If your site could be seen as attracting kids under the age of 13, know COPPA, know it well and don’t assume that just because some other site is doing “it” that “it” is OK.  Find yourself an expect, align yourself with one of the COPPA Safe Harbor programs and make sure you are doing it right.  (Full disclosure:  I worked closely with CARU, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit, a division of the Better Business Bureau to get the Safe Harbor seal for the BSG site.)

Over the last few years, I have seen far too many sites that cater primarily to kids or to their parents who to all outward appearances are flouting the rules.  If you are a parent, understand COPPA and how it protects your kids and how it doesn’t.  (Yes, there are huge problems with simply trusting a website to protect your child.  And COPPA is focused on protecting a child’s privacy.  It does not deal with bulyingbehavior or predators.) And if you are a marketer, if you don’t understant COPPA, really understand it, get some help.  Talk to your lawyers, get an expert, talk to CARU.