Two new reports on the subject of advertising to kids were published recently which are worth examining in some depth. One study was conducted by Harris Interactive and the other by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

While kids and teens do not have the spending power of adults, there is little doubt about their ability to influence purchases. Data from the US Department of Agriculture and Packaged Facts reveal that US families spent over $115 billion on food, clothing, personal-care items and entertainment for their kids in 2005, and this is expected to rise to $143 billion by 2010.

According to US Census Bureau data, there were approximately 61 million people between the ages of 3 and 17 in the US in 2005. Of this number, eMarketer estimates that 32.9 million are regular Internet users. Approximately 74% of teenagers are regular Internet users compared with 39% of children ages 3 to 11.

The kid and teen Internet population is expected to grow to 37.8 million by 2008, according to eMarketer, but it is also expected to make up a larger proportion of the total Internet population in years to come.

According to Harris Interactive, the median amount of time US children and teens spend online at home is between 30 minutes and one hour per day. Most spend a good deal less time online at school.

The most popular online activity, at least until the age of 16, is playing games. After the age of 16, teenagers are more likely to surf the Web, do their homework and communicate via e-mail and chat, according to Harris Interactive.

With kids and teens influencing the purchase of tens of billions of dollars worth of products, particularly in the food and clothing sectors, the market is clearly an important one for marketers. One of the tactics that marketers have employed in targeting kids and teens online is to combine advertising with entertainment. Branded entertainment, particularly games (so-called advergames), have become an important tool for marketers targeting kids online. In a recent study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, of 96 food brands targeted predominately at kids, 73% of their respective Web sites had a branded game a visitor could play.

"Online games are something that kids are very familar with," said eMarketer senior analyst Debra Aho Williamson. "It’s understandable why marketers would want to use this technique. But it’s crucially important for kids to learn what is marketing and what is simply a fun game."