Online games are cheaper and more effective than tv ads in an attempt to lure children towards food products, an Australian-New Zealand university research shows.
"More dangerous" than TV ads
The Kellogg's tiger teaches children to play baseball, Nestlé gets children to fling Angry Bids in a breakfast bowl while Paula the Cow (from Dr. Oetker) shows children around her crazy farm. These may seem like innocent online games, but they are "more dangerous than tv ads" according to Australian and New Zealand researchers.
477 children, aged 5-8, were asked to play Froot Loops, a game that gives more points for cereal than for fruit. Afterwards, they were asked which was their favourite breakfast and 65 % chose Froot Loops. Only 35 % of children chose Froot Loops if they hadn't played the game. A Mexican research had shown similar results, but with Oreo cookies: 65 % chose Oreo cookies out of an entire range of snacks after playing a similar game.
"It works better than TV commercials as those are over after 20 seconds, while an internet game can keep a child busy for far longer", Jaap Seidell, food and health professor at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, said.
Health-focused groups are critical
An increasing number of health-focused organizations are calling for rules for these "hidden temptations". "It is much cheaper for manufacturers of unhealthy food. Sponsored games, social media offers, it is all part of the deal", Jaap Seidell said.
Tim Smits, researcher at the KU Leuven, agreed: "It is a typical consequence. Children associate fun with Kellogg's and that is why they suddenly crave cereal more. When my colleague showed children an interview with a footballer who advertised a potato chips brand, everyone immediately craved potato chips afterwards", he explained in Het Nieuwsblad. "Parents have very little impact on this type of advertising and therefore the government needs to create strict rules", he feels.
59 % of 9-16 year old children in the European Union has a social media account and social media advertising is extremely effective for this particular age group. They also want what their friends like. What is worse is that they are still unable to differentiate between advertising and reality. There are clearer boundaries on TV as there is a separation between content and ads, but that boundary is not as clear on the internet and even vaguer in games, the researchers say.