MySpace: To Advertise or Not to Advertise?

With the recent news of MySpace overtaking Yahoo as the most visited domain, the advertising community is abuzz about the opportunity to market to a difficult-to-reach demographic audience: teens and young adults.

Some researchers say that a large percentage of MySpace users are 12 to 17 year olds. Although this is an incredible marketing opportunity, advertisers are having to weigh the risks of being associated with a site that has been criticized in the media for promoting sex and being unsafe for young users.

The news media is filled with stories of sexual predators, arrests, police probes, lawsuits, and attorney general investigations of MySpace. Some headlines I came across include: “Man Arrested after Meeting Girl on MySpace,” “Predators are Known to use MySpace,” “MySpace Not for Advertisers, It’s for Sex,” and “Parent Aren’t Aware of Danger on MySpace“.

MySpace hit a nerve with me personally when a 14-year-old girl I am close to posted provocative pictures of herself on her MySpace page. Men from all over the world began contacting her. Her panicked parents had to take drastic steps to protect her and the rest of their family. Sadly, the 14-year-old didn’t understand the dangers or ramifications of what she had done, like so many other teens.

MySpace has taken steps to strengthen its security standards in an effort to protect itself and its users. From hiring Microsoft’s former head of consumer and child security divisions to developing technology to oust sex offenders MySpace appears to have recognized the importance of a safer online community.

The social networking site also offers user safety tips and guidelines for parents who wish to remove their child’s profile from MySpace.

With many online forums/social sites, explicit content is easy to find and forum participants, along with readers, can be from any age group including children.

Just as parents should be aware of where and how their kids are presenting themselves online, advertisers who choose to market on social networking sites like MySpace should be aware of where their ads are being placed, and whether this placement will boost or damage their brand image.