FoodFacts.com has followed the issue of how food manufacturers market foods to children. We’ve posted about how the food industry is supposed to self-regulate and how they have stated their commitment to promoting healthier food choices to children. They haven’t been extremely successful in their efforts. Today on Slate.com, we read about how the industry has increased another marketing tactic called “advergames” as another powerful promotional tool. Here’s what they had to say:
Exactly as their name suggests, advergames combine advertising and addictive video games in a way that ensure kids bathe in product spots for as long as they click on the keyboard or smartphone. That might mean anything from popup ads unrelated to the action to whole experiences built around branded characters. Recently, Chipotle got a lot of attention for their Scarecrow commercial and its accompanying game/app, but examples are as numerous as your options for breakfast cereal. Sticking just to that aisle, there’s “Ice Block” from Fruit Loops, “Cap’n Crunch’s Crunchling Adventure,” and “Cookie Crisp City.”
Recently, researchers at Michigan State University analyzed more than 100 advergames to see whether any patterns emerged about the products being advertised. After looking at 145 different websites, the researchers identified 439 products from 19 brands. They then analyzed the nutritional contents of each of these products to see how they measured up against health recommendations for children.
Of the products advertised, approximately 95 percent of the meals and 78 percent of the snacks exceeded total fat content recommendations set by the United States Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. For sodium, 95 – 97 percent of the meals and 41 percent to 64 percent of the snacks failed to meet guidelines (depending on whether you’re using the USDA or FDA’s recommendations). And when it came to added sugar, 86.6 percent of meals and 97 percent of snacks exceed the USDA recommendations. (The FDA doesn’t make a recommendation for added sugar.)
There’s some powerful lobbying at work. In 2009, a number of government organizations were tasked with defining nutrition principles for foods marketed to children. It was aptly named the Interagency Working Group on Foods Marketed to Children, and it has failed repeatedly to stand up to the food industry. In fact, right now its official recommendation is for the industry to regulate itself.
Elizabeth Taylor Quilliam, one of the papers lead authors, says this was an interesting secondary takeaway from the research. “The fact that the agencies were not able to get together with one standard, and that it’s still up to the industry to self regulate is continuing to create this confusing environment where a lot of the messages getting through to kids may not be the ones that parents would want them to receive.”
FoodFacts.com did a little searching. We found games our kids are playing at BKcrown.com (Burger King), McVideogame.com (McDonald’s), PebblesPlay.com (Post Cereal), CrazySquares.com (General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch). Those are just a few of the branded sites. In addition, at GamesOnline.fm, you can play TacoFu from Taco Bell, at GameGape.com, you can play White Castle Chase the Crave and at CandyStand.com, you can play Gummi Grab, Sour then Sweet and Sour Patch Stunt Crew. We were only searching for about 10 minutes. There are plenty more like these out there. You’ll notice, though, that we didn’t find an advergame for an organic food brand. Pretty much sums it up.