MINNEAPOLIS: The National Institute on Media and the Family, a group that led the charge against video-game violence, has turned its focus to online viral marketing and PR efforts that appeal to or use children.
The institute has started an investigation into whether viral websites that call on children to become part of marketing networks exploit minors or expose them to online predators.
Word-of-mouth campaigns have been gaining in popularity in recent years as the effectiveness of other marketing techniques has been questioned.
"This is a top issue for the institute," said Blois Olson, president of New School Communications, a St. Paul, MN agency that handles PR for the institute.
New School has been working to gain media attention for the study.
The institute would like to see online PR and marketing conform to standards regarding use of children in other marketing arenas, Olson said.
"Everyone has to subscribe to the same standards in buzz PR as regular PR," Olson said.
The institute has already said initial research found sites that violate guidelines developed by the National Advertising Review Council.
The institute is particularly concerned about online viral campaigns that expose children to sexually explicit information, age-inappropriate language, and sexual images.
It's already found that a website run by Procter & Gamble, Tremor.com, sent a 13-year-old boy an e-mail with the subject line "Got Girls?"
The e-mail went on to talk about creating an Old Spice calendar. "That means loads of gorgeous girls for you to check out and vote on," it said.
A Tremor PR person didn't return a request for comment.
"This can be considered the warning to parents that the institute considers this a very important issue," said Olson.