LONDON: Online advertising by familiar brands is seen by children as a mark of a site's credibility and trustworthiness a new study has found.

A three-year ethnographic research project being undertaken by UK regulator Ofcom – Children's Media Lives – involves tracking the same 18 children aged 8-15 to explore how their digital media use evolves over time.

The findings from the first wave of research indicated that websites displaying advertising by brands popular among friends and family were the most trusted. And if a site had lots of adverts, it was seen as a sign that those brands considered the site trustworthy and the children could do so too.

But the science behind it was a closed book to children and some of the parents who were completely unaware of personalised advertising online.

Children, not surprisingly, found it difficult to understand how the process would work, or even why companies would want to target them as they were not normally the ones making the purchases.

They were on safer ground with television advertising, which most were able to easily identify. Many could also recognise those online adverts that bore most resemblance to TV adverts, like short video adverts at the start of a YouTube video.

Product placement, whether in television programmes, films or YouTube vlogs, was pretty much invisible to children. And when playing video games like FIFA they didn't recognise as advertising the in-game sponsorship and advertising around the edge of the football pitch.

Online gaming was also blurring the boundaries with social media as children used games' chat functionality to talk with friends and with people they didn't know.

They were finding it "increasingly difficult … to disentangle where the 'gaming' element ended and the 'social media' element began as the two were often seamlessly integrated", the report noted.

Games and apps were also a common conduit to the internet, rather than browsers; parents, and children, were often left unsure as to when children were actually online.

Data sourced from Ofcom; additional content by Warc staff