With parents' organizations raising concerns about Web sites that aim their marketing messages directly at children, Lycos has taken it upon itself to propose a new set of voluntary Internet advertising guidelines.
The search engine company wants advertisers and ad agencies to follow the guidelines when developing campaigns that will appear within or next to child-oriented content anywhere within its online service.
Lycos is asking advertisers to avoid:
--glamorizing, distorting, or exaggerating the functions or characteristics of a product.
--directing children to buy or asking a parent to purchase a product or service, or employing peer pressure.
--portraying behavior that is inconsistent with generally accepted social values.
--designing ads that are confusing or misleading.
The guidelines also call for clear labeling of conditional offers, as well as costs associated with purchases, such as shipping and handling. While Lycos is insisting that advertisers follow the guidelines when placing ads on its own "Just for Kids" category, the rules don't necessarily apply to the content of all the sites indexed for its search service.
The effort is another sign that businesses on the Web are recognizing that a few ground rules are needed for consumers to feel comfortable conducting commerce on the Internet.
Earlier this month at a Federal Trade Commission conference about privacy and electronic marketing, the Direct Marketing Association issued some of its own guidelines for online advertising. But unlike Lycos's proposals, the group's rules did not address the content of ads, only the means by which they are delivered or seen.
The issue of online advertising and children was underscored after the Center for Media Education asked the FTC in May to investigate a Web site that targeted 4- to 15-year-olds. The center claimed that the site's developer designed it with cartoon-character pitchmen to help monitor childen's online behavior and then sold the information to other companies.