Over the years, Internet and other digital media usage has rapidly increased among young consumers and marketers have taken notice. Brands are expanding their marketing to include commercial websites, Internet advertising, online videos, social media, and advergames. Advergames, online games used to advertise products in a fun and engaging way, are commonly featured on company websites and developed into mobile apps. Advergames are growing across global markets, but brands must be prepared to handle the backlash that surrounds advertising to children.
Food and beverage companies are among many that have jumped on the advergame bandwagon and are using them to reach children of all ages. These simple and enticing games for laptops, touch-screen phones and tablets are far cheaper than traditional advertising and have proven to be effective because it encourages a tighter bond between marketers and young consumers.
One brand that utilizes advergames on its corporate web site to specifically target youth is Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts®. On the Pop-Tarts website, there are eight different games available for children of all ages to play. These games include mazes, skiing simulations, bike riding over a toaster, memory testing, and two holiday themed games. The games are similar to traditional online games; however each game on this web site is unique by being centralized around the product. For example, the main interactive character is a Pop-Tart and the games include items that relate to the product, such as a toaster.
A few apps that have already become hits are “SuperPretzel Factory”, which encourages players to race against a timer to mix bowls of dough, and “Icee Maker”, which has been downloaded more than eight million times since its release in 2012. Mobile apps have become increasingly popular because children can easily use and understand a touch screen. A recent survey conducted by NPD Group found that 37% of 4-and 5-year old Americans were using smartphones and tablets.
Smartphones and tablets have started to change consumer’s habits and marketers are rushing to build a presence with games that appeal to children.
Even though these games may be successful, many considered this form of marketing to be unethical because it is manipulating children’s behavior without them even realizing it. At Bath University, Dr. Haiming Hang and Dr. Agnes Nairn have conduct several studies on advergames and found that while most children are able to identify more traditional forms of advertising, billboards or television commercials, many were not able to identify advergames as a form of advertising also. Additional research has also suggested that children’s understanding of advergames is undeveloped, which has generated a lot of concern because children are being influenced to make poor dietary choices. Luciana Berger MP, Labour’s shadow Public Health Minister, said she was “alarmed” by the increasing use of advergames. “Parents are anxious about these unfamiliar techniques in new online media and more must be done to ensure they have the information they need to protect their children from being bombarded by these compelling free games that we know most children don’t even recognize as adverts,” she added.
What are your thoughts on advergames? Just for fun? Or marketing in disguise?