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Insider trading

The recent article in the Daily Mail about secret teenage brand ambassadors is a good example of how not to go about youth media.  It looks at Dubit, a company which uses teenagers as brand “insiders” to promote its clients’ products.

A key point of responsible communications with young people is that they be transparent and accountable; Head teachers should be aware of any promotions that are being run in their schools and should be able to veto anything with which they are not entirely comfortable.

Youth media should only carry messages that are completely transparent; if the message needs to be kept secret, should it be directed at children at all?

To be fair to Dubit, teenagers take paid work in many fields.  There is nothing intrinsically wrong with young people of working age promoting appropriate brands, provided they are employed in accordance with the law and the promotions are all clearly visible – the issue here is the apparent secrecy.

In a responsible youth campaign, the media provider will only accept messages and designs that are clearly appropriate for a teenage audience; they will provide all venues with full details of proposed campaigns in advance, including the exact messages to be used; and each venue will be given an unconditional opportunity to opt out of anything they are not entirely comfortable with.

At TenNine, for example, we sometimes accept commercial bookings for movies with a 12A rating, but we always reject any proposals to promote fatty snacks.  We believe in encouraging a healthy interest in the cinema, but we wouldn’t encourage teenagers to overdose on sugar and salt while they are watching a film.  Most schools make the same distinction, but some choose not to take any commercial advertising at all.  The point is that with responsibly managed youth media, school and club managers can take these decisions; with secret brand insiders, they cannot.


  1. Nick Larder says:

    David Mitchell had an interesting take on this in The Guardian:

    The most worrying thing is the explicit advice kids are given to hide the fact they are doing it on behalf of someone!

  2. Folks – unfortunately the press managed to get all the facts wrong, and many have fallen for just reproducing the incorrect statements that were made. Sadly Dubit was singled out as the practitioner here – I hope you don’t get the same treatment in the future.

    For the record, there is good regulation out there already that would prevent anyone from undertaking the activity they mention, and we take it very seriously:  No under-16s are engaged in promoting HFSS food or soft drinks – as it is against CAP regulation. Furthermore, any ?stealth marketing? is against Unfair Trading Regulations:  the young people have to say that the product has been sent as part of a promotion. Don’t believe what the papers said.

    Plus, as a practitioner we take our duty of care further, in that the only programmes that 13-16s are directly involved with are the promotion of positive social messages, such as on healthy eating for the FSA, and all under-16s involved in any activity have written and verbal parental consent for taking part.  In fact, we respect parents’ roles and responsibilities and only ever talk to them, not direct to any kids under 13 for marketing purposes.

    Hope this helps.

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