Study Shows Online Food Ads Target Children

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In light of rising childhood obesity numbers in the US, policymakers enlisted the help of the Kaiser Family Foundation to investigate the nature and scope of online food advertising to help inform the decision-making process. The foundation’s report, “It’s Child’s Play: Advergaming and the Online Marketing of Food to Children”, has released the first round of data and a statistic that eight out of ten of the top food brands do in fact use branded websites to market to children online.

The study included a detailed analysis of 77 websites and revealed that about three-quarters of the sites include advergames, many with multiple games. In total, there were more than 546 games featured on the study’s sites, with activities like Chips Ahoy Soccer Shootout, M&M’s Trivia Game, and the Pop-Tart Slalom. Many of the games promote repeat playing, offer multiple levels of play, or suggest other games the visitor might enjoy.

About two-thirds of the sites also used viral marketing, encouraging children to send emails or invitations to their friends about a product or website.

Unlike traditional TV advertising, corporate-sponsored websites offer opportunities for visitors to spend an unlimited about of time interacting with a specific food brand in a more personal and detailed way. “Online advertising’s reach isn’t as broad as that of television, but it’s much deeper,” said Vicky Rideout, VP and director of Kaiser’s Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health. “Without good information about what this new world of advertising really looks like, there can’t be effective oversight or policymaking, whether by the industry or by government.”

Other key findings of the study have revealed that 53% of the sites have TV commercials available for repeated viewing, 27% have information about eating a healthy diet, 38% have incentives for users to purchase food to collect brand points or stamps in exchange for premiums, and 76% of the sites offer at least one “extra” option for children, like screensavers, CD covers, or brand logos or characters that can “live” on the child’s computer desktop.

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