Advertisers Will Spend More Than $1 Billion on Kid-Centric Ads by 2021

New research highlights the need for checks and balances to protect the youngest end of the digital ad ecosystem

Is big tech ready for the regulatory onslaught that comes with advertising to children? Photo Illustration: Aanya Gupta; Sources: Getty Images

Grabbing a kid’s attention isn’t the easiest thing, and because of that, advertisers are sinking more than $1 billion in ads to reach the pint-sized market.

That’s according to new research out today from PwC that projects the global market for child-friendly advertising will hit $1.7 billion by 2021.  The spend—which is largely driven by advertisers looking to hit an international audience of 130 million digitally-savvy children—is spread across desktop, mobile and tablet devices. Here, media buyers are snapping up inventory across video-on-demand (VOD) platforms like YouTube, search engines and social media. Aside from the sheer scale of the children using the net, the report highlights a need for major tech players to start taking kids seriously—at least from a market perspective.

Taking these children seriously means taking their privacy seriously, too. Regulations like COPPA in the U.S. and GDPR-K in Europe, which both restrict the collection and use of location data and personal information of kids aged 13 and younger, with the added benefit of shielding children’s info from the data leakages and general mismanagement that mar Silicon Valley’s reputation with each passing news cycle.

Similar legislation was recently proposed throughout China and India, with regulations meant to protect the tweens and teens of these countries anticipated within the next two-to-three years.

Recent months have seen big tech companies roll out a few kid-friendly offerings—like Facebook’s messenger for kids, Amazon’s Echo Dot Kid’s Edition and YouTube’s Kids app—but advertisers looking to access a child-centric audience outside of these narrow ecosystems are left in the dark. “Kids make up the largest and fastest growing internet audiences in the world, so you’d think Facebook and Google would have invested in solutions for marketing to them—but you’d be wrong,” explained Dylan Collins, who heads the child-focused ad-tech company Superawesome. “So this is a space where startups actually have an advantage, and they’re fundamentally the ones solving the problem here.”

“The problem” Collins alluded to is two-fold: how to eschew the first-party targeting capabilities that are baked into most modern ad-tech stacks, while also sidestepping the brand safety snafus that come baked into most modern tech platforms.

This “kid-tech” he and his peers have created are built to replicate what was built in the adult space, with a few stipulations. For one, they’re “built on zero data by design,” as Collins put it. Ads are delivered without cookies, and rather than targeting ads in a user-centric way, ads are targeted by the context on a particular webpage. Meanwhile, brand safety is ensured by a team of flesh-and-blood moderators, rather than leaving the delicate task to automation.

Though it might be more labor intensive than the methods employed by the adult-centric marketplace, to Collins, it’s the natural progression of brand safety on platforms like YouTube, which increasingly draw the eyes of younger audiences. “If we had this conversation three or four years ago, I’d say that these platforms could hold their noses and ignore this issue,” he said. “But I think the timeline is just starting to catch up with them.”

@swodinsky Shoshana Wodinsky is Adweek's platforms reporter, where she covers the financial and societal impacts of major social networks. She was previously a tech reporter for The Verge and NBC News.