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Educating millions of young people through Media Smart’s advertising literacy mission

Rachel Barber-Mack, Director of Media Smart

Rachel Barber-Mack, Director of Media Smart | Advertising Association

4 min read Partner content

As our young people spend longer online each day, and the government looks to new measures to make the UK the safest place in the world to go online, it is crucial that more is done to ensure children and adults have higher levels of digital literacy.

Media Smart provides online media literacy resources for young people to help them understand how advertising works. 

Set up nearly 20 years ago by the advertising industry, with materials developed by media literacy and education experts, it is now an award-winning programme. It is the only organisation that focuses on advertising literacy and is supporting the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on its important Media Literacy Strategy. Media Smart empowers young people to confidently navigate the media they consume and make informed and safer decisions online. It does this by providing teachers, parents and youth organisations with free media and digital literacy resources on important subjects like influencer marketing, body image, piracy and social media.

COVID has inevitably forced us to re-evaluate the way we approach many aspects of life, one of which being the way we engage and educate young people. Almost overnight, parents and guardians were handed an additional role of ‘teacher’ and the need for remote learning solutions was truly heightened. 

In 2021, Media Smart produced two new educational resources. The first was in partnership with Instagram in support of Safer Internet Day, where we released Influencer Marketing teaching materials on branded content as a response to feedback from young people. The second was an exciting film-based resource in collaboration with TikTok, called ‘Adverts, Creators and You’, which featured successful Creators and empowers 13-17-year-olds with the tools they need to navigate the platform’s commercial side, ensuring they have the most positive and safe online experience possible. 

COVID has inevitably forced us to re-evaluate the way we approach many aspects of life, one of which being the way we engage and educate young people.

Launched in October, it was produced off the back of research with young people, teachers and parents to ensure the materials were 100% based on youth insight. Subjects covered include defining the different ad formats on TikTok, sharing the principles that brands and creators have to adhere to, and informing young people about the actions they can take to keep themselves safe on the app.

The videos are being played in classrooms across the country, as well as directly on the platform – reaching and educating millions of young people in the process. The launch of this Media Smart resource was promoted by DCMS’s Online Media Literacy Team and we were also pleased to be given some grant funding to adapt this resource for SEND (special education needs and disabilities) students.

The new materials will be based on insights from research with SEND teachers and students. This is currently taking place. Launching at the beginning of April this year, it will be the first time Media Smart has been able to offer resources to this audience.

Media Smart is currently producing a new piece of research and an accompanying paper which explores the advertising literacy of 10-16 year olds on social media and digital advertising. It has been conducted with young people, their parents and industry stakeholders. The insightful report will examine their advertising experience, current knowledge of online safety and where they need further support, acting as a benchmark from which Media Smart and the advertising industry can make vital progress. 

Looking ahead, we will be continuing this year to promote our all-important body image and Eat Them To Defeat Them resources among secondary school-age children. The DCMS Select Committee is currently holding an inquiry into Influencer Culture, an issue on which Media Smart has been active in developing tools and resources. Once this inquiry concludes, we are looking forward to hosting an event on influencer marketing for the Media Literacy APPG in the Spring, following the publication of the Select Committee’s report.

Continued collaboration with government is essential if we are to truly make a difference when it comes to online safety and digital literacy. I look forward to building on our crucial work with DCMS to improve more young people’s media literacy this year and beyond.  

Let’s equip our young people with the necessary skills and attributes today, for better employability, wellbeing and citizenship tomorrow.

Media Smart is the only organisation that focuses on advertising literacy and is involved with DCMS’s workstream developing the government’s media literacy strategy. It operates within the Advertising Association, but as a separate non-profit.

If you’d like to know more, get in touch at

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