The Checkout

Advergame, Advercate, Advertise!

Imagine Nestle Push-Up frozen treats popping up all over the place. At kids.iceream.com, you--or more likely your kids--can bop those treats down again and again.

Or your kids can visit candystand.com and bowl with Lifesavers "to discover the refreshing flavors." If that's not their game, there's Chips Ahoy! Soccer Shootout, Chuck E. Cheese's Tic Tac Toe, Pop-Tart Slalom, M&M Trivia and lots more.

Advergaming (online games) are by no means as extensive as traditional TV advertising, but they have been designed to be more engaging--and for longer periods of time--than traditional ads. Online, kids can return again and again to a product Web site, spend an unlimited amount of time interacting with specific brands to play games, join clubs, send e-mails, sign up for sweepstakes and, of course, watch the TV ads again and again.

An online presence is so important that 85 percent of the top food brands that target children in TV ads also use Web sites to reach kids. That's one of the many intriguing findings in the just released online food advertising study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation. "Online advertising's reach isn't as broad as that of television, but it's much deeper," Vicky Rideout, vice president and director of Kaiser's Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health, said in a press release.

The study--the first in-depth analysis on online food ads for kids--is certain to become a key source in the growing debate on how companies should market food to children, particularly as the rate of childhood obesity has dramatically increased.

The study looked at 77 Web sites, including more than 4,000 unique Web pages. These sites received more than 12.2 million visits from children ages 2 to 11 in the second quarter of 2005, according to Nielsen NetRatings data.

Some of the study's findings:

* Nearly three-quarters of the Web sites had online games, or advergames. Some sites had one game per site; others had as many as 60. Many of these sites encourage repeat playing, partly by offering multiple levels of play or suggesting other online advergames to visit.

* Almost two-third of the sites used viral marketing in which kids are encouraged to send e-mails to their friends about a product or invite them to visit the company's Web site. For example, at juicyfruit.com, users were encouraged to "send a friend this fruitylicious site." If they sent the link to 5 friends, they would get a code that would give them access to additional features on the site. On Keebler's Hollow Tree Web site, children were invited to send a friend some "Elfin Magic" in a birthday or seasonal greeting.

* About a third of sites had "advercation" (a new term, I think) in which a brand character was used to present an educational topic--such as Hersheys.com history of how chocolate is made.

* Two-thirds of the sites had promotions in which children could play sweepstakes or participate in some game to win free merchandise related to the food product.

* About half the sites promoted the brand's TV commercials. On Skittles.com, for example, users were told they could watch the ads "over and over right now" instead of having to wait for them to appear on TV.

* Thirty-eight percent of the sites encourage the viewer to purchase food so they can collect brand points or stamps that can be exchanged for premiums, such as more online access to new games or brand-related clothes.

* Seventy-six percent of the sites offered ways for children to extend the brand experience beyond the Web site by offering screensavers, printable coloring pages, branded CD covers or characters that can "live" on a child's computer desktop."

* Thirty-five percent of sites offered some type of educational content such as historical facts about dinosaurs, astronomy, sports or geography.

* Half the sites included nutritional information, such as what's found on a product's label, while 44 percent included some type of nutritional claim such as "good source of vitamins and minerals." And 27 percent had information about eating a healthy diet.

The Internet "has blurred the line between advertising and entertainment," the study concluded. "Children who visit these sites are being exposed to a diverse and extensive array of brand-related information, far beyond anything they would see in a 30-second TV ad. They are also being recruited as marketers themselves, promoting branded messages to their friends.

"Although young children are rapidly adopting new media, research efforts have not kept pace. Little is known about what children understand, believe or do as a consequence of their exposure to brand messages in this new marketing environment."

This study is certainly a good first step.

Your thoughts?

By  |  July 20, 2006; 9:45 AM ET Kids Marketing
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Comments

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Is this really THAT bad?? I checked out the Candystand site and, frankly, I could think of a million places on the web that I'd be much more fearful of my kids frequenting. Bottom line, it is a great site (okay, okay, so I spent about 30 minutes here myself!) What you're missing is that these companies are providing free entertainment. While some stuff out there is just silly, I'd much prefer my kids hanging around a well-done site like Candystand than MySpace!

Posted by: Erica | July 20, 2006 11:01 AM

By all means, if you don't like something on the Internet that your child can find, force the website to come down. No, it isn't the parent's responsibility to make sure they keep their kids away from content online.

Plan and simple - if you don't like the sites, don't let your kid online or limit the site to which he/she can go.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 20, 2006 1:14 PM

I agree with the previous poster. My five year-old is only allowed to play online in places like pbskids.org, or nrojr.gov, which are fairly educational and advert-free. He'll have time to get bombarded with commercials when he grows up. Of course, that takes parental supervision, by which I don't mean some nanny software, but a parent keeping an eye on what's happening on screen.

Posted by: WDC | July 20, 2006 1:21 PM

You people are hysterical. The entire article was simply facts ... reporting what is out there and making the point that research hasn't kept pace with the changing technology. The first three comments out of the gate somehow read it as saying the sites are bad, or that somebody wants to "force the website to come down."

Did you actually READ the article? Or did you just see that it was about web sites connected to candy companies and assume you already knew what it said?

Posted by: SteveG | July 20, 2006 2:36 PM

First, I don't think the Advercation of children is a bad thing. Kids like to learn. They also like candy. So, why is it necessarily evil to teach kids about a topic in a branded environment or teach them about the lifestory of Coco Krisp (not the baseball player)?
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Second, I'm glad to see the proliferation of the word Advercation...as I believe coined it a few years back.
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It seems it has taken on two distinct meanings at this point:
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1) To advertise a product by educating a consumer in a branded environment.
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2) The act of educating people about advertising methodologies.
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I've been working on #2 on my new blog: http://www.advercation.com but I think #1 is the paramount of what interactive advertising should be. It's not a bad thing to be educated or entertained by advertising.
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Any, yes, at the end of the day it think it is up to parents not to buy their children unhealthy food, no matter how much advercation, advergaming, and advertising they've digested.

-Peter S. Corbett
http://www.blattnerbrunner.com

Posted by: Peter Corbett | August 15, 2006 5:39 PM

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