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Advergaming and Brand Building with Children

When it comes to our children it is in our nature to try to protect our most vulnerable members of our society. It is difficult to measure the effects and influence of this type of advertising on children and translating it into dollars. As IMC practitioners it is our duty to be careful when targeting this market. What do we gain as a company if we persuade children to influence their parent’s to buy our products? Can we with integrity be proud of our sales figures while our children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren become overweight and lazy? Did we help to contribute to this

Currently over 85% of companies who sell food and beverage products have advergames online numbering over 500 free games. The spending by companies in the U.S. market on gaming was estimated to be over $760 million in 2007 with an estimated 256 million users. (Jussel, 2007) In 2005, the top rated food companies logged in over 12.2 million visits to their website by children. Advergaming can be more influential than other forms of media as well. With a television commercial there is little viewer interactivity. With an online game, the product message gets more deeply ingrained into the viewer since they are more involved with the media. (Lelchuk, 2006) Children spend on average over one hour a day online and about 49 minutes a day playing video games. Many children also have their own computer in their rooms (31%) at home.  (Rideout, 2005)

Since young children cannot read, they are left to images and logos to tell them about products. When the images are bright and fun and show a cartoon character on the front promoting the product, then it must be for kids and therefore fun right? If it has no character on it then it must be boring, healthy, and for adults. In order to obtain this brand recognition, then companies need to use visual appealing cartoon characters for brand recognition. (Neeley, 2004

Since it is difficult for children to distinguish between characters promoting products and TV characters, companies need to think twice about what images they want representing their products to a vulnerable audience. Professor Dale Kunkel of the University of Arizona sates, “In TV advertising, there is a clear boundary between what is the program and what is the advertising. But on the internet it is blurred.” (Lelchuk, 2006)

When I observed children and parents in the cereal aisles of two different grocery stores over the period of several hours I did observe some commonalities:
–    Children under the age of 3 didn’t really care about the cereal or images around them.
–    Children ages 4-8 immediately chose the cereal they wanted using past history to make their choices.
–    Teenage girls seemed more health conscious and were seen looking at labels and the back of the boxes and made healthier choices.
–    Parents were also seen asking their children what they wanted.
–    I also observed that most families with children ages 4-8 avoided the cereal aisle altogether or they sped down the aisle as fast as they could.
–    Another observation was that parents more often purchased fast cereals such as PopTarts or breakfast bars over cereal.

As an IMC practitioner, the above observations would lead me to conclude that we cannot lump all children into one category. Each child responds to and reacts to products and advertising differently. Children under the age of three seem either uninfluenced by the cartoon characters and promotions, or they do not have the brain development to associate with them yet. Children ages 4-8 seem to be the most influenced in the market and older children want something healthier and that is easy to take with them while on the go. Perhaps they are more health conscience, watching their weight, or are involved with sports type activities.

So, in conclusion, I would be hesitant to lump all children together and tell you what to do or not do to market to them as a group. Each group needs to be taken into consideration carefully. We do not want to alienate the trust of the parents or these children who will someday be buying these products for their own children. Kim Masters writes, “…children’s experiences beyond their own households – in the neighborhood, school, or in the larger community – can have a powerful impact on their growth and development”. (Masters, 2006) I believe we can extend this to the area of marketing and advertising as well.

For more reading on this topic, please see these articles:

Marketing to Children is Big Business.
‘Adverganes’ Hooks Kids on Products.
Advergaming Arcades Shift Toward Virtual Villages & Kid Vid
Masters, Kim (2006, October 3). For Toddlers, a World Laden with Advertising.
Neary, Lynn (2006, October 3). Tweens and the Media: What’s Too Adult?
Neeley, Sabrina M. and Schumann, David W. (2004, Fall) Using Animated Spokes-Characters in Advertising to Young Children. Journal of Advertising., vol. 33, no. 3. Pp. 7-23
Rideout et al (2005, March). Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year Olds.

Child Oriented Websites…Unethical or Just Good Fun?

istockphoto_5930832-little-girl-using-laptop3

– image from iStock.com

Are using websites to advertise to children unethical and harmful? I really don’t know. After spending some time reading about this topic and reading what others have to say, my answer would be… that depends on the site and what the goal of that site is. The site I studied was http://www.poptarts.com. This website was fun for kids and adults. They have winter themed games and craft ideas. A good way to kill a few hours. I also visited Nestle Quick’s website, Crayola’s websites, and Barbie’s as well.

I think that you have to be careful when you advertise to children using websites. If your main motivation is for making money only then I think the idea shouldn’t be done. If the purpose is to stimulate creativity like Crayola or Lego, with a side benefit of brand awareness, then I think your on to something.

Some of the websites I went to were so cluttered with ads that it was information overload. One thing I was impressed with was on the Pop Tarts site, after a few minutes went by they turned the games off and told you to get up and go play outside. They also had a brief statement at in their intro that said playing on line was fine but so was playing outdoors or something like that. There was no ads on the site and they only briefly mentioned a new flavor under their News section. You feel like the site is good fun and not necessarily advertising.

Overall, there are a lot of dollars being spent advertising to children. In 2006, $1.6 billion was spent to market products to children and teenagers. The government and food company coalitions are trying to regulate advertising to children. The groups allow companies with “better-for-you” products that have a target audience of less than 50% children to advertise to them. Or is it 25%? What defines a better-for-you product anyway? No one seems to know and this is where the regulation falls down. Several companies have taken it upon themselves to make healthier products or marketing changes. These companies include: Campbell’s, Kellogg’s, Burger King, Hershey, and Coca-Cola. Other companies are also starting to gear their marketing efforts toward mothers. Kellogg’s has been trying to make their Pop Tarts product healthier without success. Kellogg’s spokesman Kris Charles states, “If we can’t do it, we will shift the target for that product to adults, whether it’s moms or whomever makes sense.” (Clifford, 2008)

Another article I found discussed the role of psychologists in helping companies market to children. The article states that when children were asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, it used to be answers like a nurse or fireman. Now the answers are whatever makes enough money for me to buy the things I want to buy. A big change of focus onto the material. Do children believe that having things or whatever they want will make them happy in the end? (Clay, 2000)

So what type of consumers will my children grow up to be? I am not sure, however, I would be hopeful that marketers have their best interest at heart instead of their wallets… or is that wishful thinking?

For further reading on marketing to children, check out the following links:

Advertising to children: Is it ethical? (Clay, 2000)

Tug of War in Food Marketing to Children (Clifford, 2008)