Just Fun and Games?

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 Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 11.49.49 PMis 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.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 11.09.36 PM

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.

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What are your thoughts on advergames? Just for fun? Or marketing in disguise?

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6 thoughts on “Just Fun and Games?

  1. Reblogged this on Creative Resources and commented:
    I believe advergaming is both for fun and marketing. It is a way for the brand to build a relationship and continue brand awareness. I don’t think it is manipulation to kids … It should be up to the parents if they believe a product is bad for the kids … A game is just a game … It is a communication tool for the brand to speak volumes about what they are about and what they have to offer.

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    • Christina,
      Thanks for the comment! I think parents play a big role in deciding how advergames impact their children. While researching about these games, I came across several articles where one parent would say they didn’t care because it was just a game and others who were convinced that the games influenced their kids bad eating habits. Either way, I find advergames interesting because it’s a different way to engage with consumers and get them talking about the product.

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  2. Very interesting blog. This is marketing in disguise. I think what Luciana Berger said is important. Parents must monitor and guide children screen time and what their viewing. But here is thing, parents are already doing more business with companies acting more social responsible. Cone Communications and Echo research found that “90 percent of shoppers surveyed would boycott companies if they found the firms engaged in irresponsible business practices.” (Truist, 2014) It would behoove companies to do the right thing for their bottom line. Companies can look to Advertising Educational Foundation. AEF serves as one of the associations serving on the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU). CARU has issued guidelines for all media including interactive media.

    (2014). Why socially responsible companies get more business. Retrieved, November 9, 2014 from: truist.com/why-socially-responsible-companies-get-more-business/

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    • Karen,
      Thanks for the comment! I agree that parents need to monitor their children’s screen time because it can consume their entire day if the parents allow it. I don’t think I wouldn’t mind advergames as much if they were educational. I work for a credit union and there are several games associated with financial institutions that promote budgeting, understand needs vs. wants, etc. Those games are teaching children how to be financially responsible, which can help them in future, instead of just teaching them how to catch Pop-Tarts with candy canes.

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  3. Great post. In one of our assignments, I researched Happymeal.com’s use of advergames to market to children. One of the scary things about it is that there really are no solid laws on what a company can and can not do online. The laws are in place for traditional media, but laws haven’t caught up yet with emerging media – media that’s evolving.

    The key is parental oversight into the websites their children are visiting. If I don’t like what a company stands for, I’ll simply deny my children from frequenting products/advergames from that company. For example, some cartoons are too scary, or the characters are just too silly to provide strong educational/character standards for my daughters.

    On the other hand, if there’s a website that gets my daughter interested in reading, seeing princesses and the wonder of imagination, like Doc McStuffing or Sophia, then an advergame is no problem. It strengthens the bond between the stories and the child, at the same time not selling anything bad for them.

    – Mohamed

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    • Mohamed,
      The fact that there are no rules about marketing to children online is very scary! It’s definitely a challenge to keep up with all of the emerging media, but I still think there should be some rules regulating marketing towards children online. I think you brought up a great point though – parents are key to what their children can and cannot engage with (until a certain point, at least). I don’t have children, but I’m sure my guidelines will be similar to yours.

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