BAT Apologizes After Vype Ads Appear in Apps for Kids

Author and educator Graham Brown-Martin recently tweeted a picture of his daughter’s iPad while she was playing a popular kid’s game. At the top of the game, there was a banner ad for Vype electornic cigarettes. When he sent out the tweet, he alerted the corporate Twitter account for British American Tobacco, the big name behind Vype. Martin basically called them out for advertising e-cigs to children and laid the proof out for the whole world to see.

British American Tobacco responded quickly by taking down its online advertisements for Vype while they investigated the situation. Soon after, they issued a statement:

“We’ve investigated and found a breach of protocols by third party used by ad agency. It’s unacceptable and we’re taking the issue seriously… we have ensured that the procedures and protocols our agencies and their suppliers use are reviewed… We apologize that this has happened and are working to ensure this never happens again.”

As twitter users continued to talk about the incident, another individual tweeted a photo of their child playing a game that displayed a gambling ad. It seems the problem is much larger than one isolated company. In-app advertising as a whole needs a closer look.

The whole incident wasn’t caused by an e-cig company trying to push electronic cigarettes on children. Instead, it was about in-app ad settings that were not correctly configured by the advertising companies. Ultimately, British American Tobacco was not even involved with where the ads specifically appeared in apps. Instead, a third party ad network was in charge of displaying the banners and they didn’t do it within the appropriate parameters.

The solution for this issue is going to require a lot of work from several different parties. First of all, parents need to be cautious about allowing children to play free apps because these are the games that are full of ads and sometimes, they are not age-appropriate. It might be worth paying a buck or two to prevent your child from clicking on something inappropriate.

Another option is to password protect the Internet browsing option on your phone and the app store. This acts as a safeguard in case your child does click on an ad so they cannot access the website or make a purchase in the app store.

There are a handful of companies that are working to build ad networks specifically for children’s apps. SuperAwesome in the UK is developing kid-friendly advertisements and product reviews. CEO Dylan Collins said, “Advertising is the only safe way to create sustainable content companies in a way that doesn’t exploit children. But that’s where you need a kids specialist media company that can do appropriate ads, which what we do.”

For now, parents need to watch ads carefully and monitor the time their kids spend on apps. Developers need to be careful about advertising settings and companies like British American Tobacco need to patrol their ads more carefully to make sure they are only appearing in appropriate places.

Do you think British American Tobacco handled the situation gracefully? How can we keep kids from being exposed to adult content through advertising in apps?

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Author Focus: Katie Bercham
Katie actually had a negative first experience of electronic cigarettes, picking up a cheap and horrible model from my local mall. Thanks to a chance meeting with co-editor David, she hasn’t had a tobacco cigarette in over 2 years. She brings a strong female voice to the e-cig community... Read Full Profile >