Targeting Children Online: Young internet users and producers in the commercial media environment

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)


Children’s daily internet usage takes place to a large extent in a commercial environment, where advertising and the sale of virtual goods are ever-present parts of the online experience. The overall goal of this thesis is to contribute to a critical understanding of children’s commercial online environment as spaces for children’s everyday life activities and participation, and as spaces for commercial interests that seek to target children and monetize their internet usage. Two papers analyze the perspectives of children, namely, how children view and engage with online advertising. Two papers explore the perspectives of producers involved in advertising to children online, with a focus on how these producers represent themselves, their practices and the child audience. In addition to this, one paper analyzes what participatory opportunities are provided to users in children’s virtual worlds, and how participation is constrained by the commercial strategies (the sale of virtual goods and VIP membership). This paper also looks into the ways in which the producer discursively represents the virtual world, and how the users relate tactically to the commercial strategies. The empirical material includes 20 individual interviews with 9-year-old children, 12 group interviews (in total 46 participants) with 9- and 12-year-old children, as well as interviews with 18 marketers and advertising agency professionals. The case study of the virtual world Habbo Hotel includes online observations, one producer interview and document analysis. The thesis combines different theoretical perspectives that mainly are productive for understanding the subjectivities and practices of children and producers. Michel de Certeau’s (1984) theory on practices in everyday life is of special importance in the thesis and is used in three of the papers.
The results show the mulitiplicity and ambivalence of children’s practices with regard to online advertising; the children engaged tactically with advertising through different forms of avoidance tactics and “tactics of the mind” (such as critique), and the children also expressed how they engaged non-tactically with advertising, such as sitting and watching advertisements without wanting to. They primarily considered advertising as an intruder that obstructed their internet usage, and which introduced moments of struggle, deception, confrontation and resignation. However, advertising was also engaged with as entertainment and information. These results suggest that the commercial online environment, particularly advertising-based mobile games, is a demanding environment for children. The case study of the virtual world Habbo Hotel reveals, among other things, how the producer’s main strategy was to provide rather unrestricted opportunities for social participation, and based on that market virtual goods and VIP membership through methods that, for instance, took advantage of children’s need to gain status in the peer group. The producer-oriented study shows how the advertising producers discursively evaded the power relationship existing between them and the child audience; they either refuted or distanced themselves from the subject position “producer of child-directed advertising” and legitimized their practices by arguing that their advertisements were directed to, for instance, parents and the family, or by downplaying the marketing dimension of branded entertainment. Children were constructed in ambivalent ways, as both vulnerable and incompetent, and as competent and dependent. These results contribute to our understanding of how cultural context shapes the notion of the child audience among producers.


  • Carolina Martinez
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Media and Communications


  • online advertising, internet, mobile games, children, advertising professionals, marketers, virtual worlds, tactics
Translated title of the contributionBarn som måltavla online: Unga internetanvändare och producenter i den kommersiella mediemiljön
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Thesis sponsors
  • Swedish Research Council
  • Crafoord Foundation
Award date2017 Feb 3
Place of PublicationLund
  • Lund University
Print ISBNs978-91-7753-012-1
Electronic ISBNs978-91-7753-013-8
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2017-02-03 Time: 10:15 Place: Main auditorium, SOL, Helgonabacken 12, Lund External reviewer(s) Name: Ingegerd Rydin Title: Professor emerita Affiliation: Högskolan Halmstad ---

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