Family Group: WOMMA Guidelines Don't Go Far Enough

  |  February 11, 2005   |  Comments

A proposed word-of-mouth marketing ethics code draws criticism regarding protection of minors.

The National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF) called on the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) to revise its code to better protect minors. Specifically, it wants WOMMA to require parental consent before 13-16 year olds participate in viral marketing campaigns.

WOMMA's proposed code of ethics, put forth earlier this week, call for marketers to avoid including children under 13 in campaigns and to comply with all applicable laws dealing with minors and marketing.

NIMF says its expression of concern comes amidst its ongoing investigation into questionable Internet marketing tactics, what it calls "buzzploitation." The organization says some campaigns expose kids to age-inappropriate language and sexual images. It also fears that setting up children-oriented discussion forums around campaigns opens up opportunities for sexual predators.

"WOMMA is leaving parents in the dark. Parents need to know what their children are seeing and doing online," said David Walsh, the institute's president and founder. "One way to make sure children notify their parents of their involvement in online promotions is to require parental consent. Otherwise, WOMMA provides a safe harbor for marketers who seek to exploit children."

Noting the code of ethics is a work in progress, WOMMA CEO Andy Sernovitz said the draft was issued specifically to elicit public comments like those from NIMF. Sernovitz expressed disappointment in the institute's public statement, however, saying WOMMA had contacted the group in December to ask for help with the code, but it never responded.

"That being said, we are in complete agreement that the need to protect minors is a critical issue," said Sernovitz. "And we look forward to working with leading educational, consumer, and children's advocate organizations in making sure that the bar is set properly high."

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Pamela Parker

Pamela Parker is a former managing editor of ClickZ News, Features, and Experts. She's been covering interactive advertising and marketing since the boom days of 1999, chronicling the dot-com crash and the subsequent rise of the medium. Before working at ClickZ, Parker was associate editor at @NY, a pioneering Web site and e-mail newsletter covering New York new media start-ups. Parker received a master's degree in journalism, with a concentration in new media, from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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