Kids and teens today have been familiar with digital media and advertising from a very young age. With technology at their fingertips, the need for our youngest generation to understand what exactly is being suggested, promised and sold is greater than ever. Media Smart, a media literacy programme for 7 to 16 year-olds, backed by a panel of industry experts and a range of supporters (including us), aims to fulfil this need by providing free resources to help young people think critically about the advertising they come across in their day-to-day lives. They called on us to help them in their mission.

Last summer, Media Smart debuted its latest set of resources, on social media and advertising, for teachers’ and parents’ use. For the first time, these educational materials were aimed at UK secondary school students (11-16) rather than primary. They aimed to educate students on:

  • The types of social media available to them.
  • The advertising they are exposed to and how to manage it.
  • Their relationship with social media sites, their sponsors and advertisers.

But how useful were they? And crucially, did they spark any behavioural changes in students?

Our Insights team were called upon to help answer these key questions. Employing a unique methodology of focus groups and anonymous surveys, proven to break down teacher-teen reticence, we conducted a cross-country, nine month study to assess the impact Media Smart’s efforts.


The deep dark world of the Internet

As we began our research, it became more and more apparent that a need for these resources existed. What students were telling us about their experiences with advertising and social media during our school visits didn’t always marry up to the concerns and fears expressed in our anonymous surveys.

Many students felt they already knew everything about the online world, and any teaching in the subject area came across as white noise. The online surveys, however, revealed something very different.

When asked about signing up to social media accounts, only a ⅓ of students claimed to give their real age.

source: SuperAwesome research: UK, age 11 – 16, n = 557

Not only this, but 15% of students claimed to have been exposed to cyberbullying and nearly 20% claimed to have seen inappropriate content when online. These online behaviours revealed a real lack of understanding about what should be acceptable in the online world.

source: SuperAwesome research: UK, age 11 – 16, n = 557

Teachers were struggling to overcome the ‘white noise’

For teachers, concerns stemmed from their lack of confidence in the subject of advertising and social media. Many were acutely aware that students already felt knowledgeable on these subjects, and some felt ill equipped to approach teaching. A lot of current teaching on the subject was often ill-received and seen as white noise. Teachers demanded help in this area with 77% flagging lessons on advertising in the curriculum as an area to be addressed.


Better understanding means greater, more positive activity

For both students and teachers, the resources sparked a major behavioural change – increased confidence in understanding of both online advertising and social media.

  1. We witnessed greater online activity after delivery across all of these areas:
source: SuperAwesome research: UK, age 11 – 16, n = 415

2) Double the amount of students rated their understanding of social media and advertising as ‘good’ or ‘great’ (43% to 85%)

3) Teachers truly welcomed the assistance in teaching, with 60% of those surveyed saying they would re-deliver the resources.

4) Teachers were also now more concerned about students seeing inappropriate content (53% to 56%) and advertising (44% to 47%). Delivery of the resources heightened teachers’ awareness of these problems, making them better equipped to teach and provide direction on the subject.

Our study proved that the materials produced by Media Smart were both useful and effective at changing behaviours. Teachers now have a toolkit of resources to draw upon and they feel better equipped to deliver the right education. The resources also address key (initially unacknowledged) gaps in students’ understanding of the subject.

With access to the online world from an early age, a better understanding of social media and advertising amongst kids and teens is essential. These materials are just one example of how we can teach our youngest generation to protect themselves online, and are a great step towards our goal of building a digital media ecosystem for kids.

To hear more about the project and for more information on how to use our ad hoc insights to shape your communications strategy with kids and teens, please get in touch.