Online Games Designed to Market Food Brands to Children: What Parents Should Know About Advergames

Have you ever heard the word “advergame”? Don’t feel stupid if you haven’t. The term is only about ten years old and it’s hardly spoken outside advertising circles.So what is an advergame? An advergame is a video game used to promote a brand, product or message. And, “advergaming,” as it’s called, is an increasingly popular way to get children under 12 years old to fall in love with food brands.Take the Kellogg’s Rice Krispie website. It has more than a dozen games for preschoolers and kindergarteners. The site is branded and the games feature Kellogg’s breakfast products. In one game, players have to move a bowl under a row of funnels to catch a variety of Kellogg’s brand cereals. In another game, players help the Rice Krispie characters fire cocoa beans into bowls.And Kellogg’s is not alone in using advergames to promote kids’ cereals by any means. General Mills’ breakfast cereal, Lucky Charms, has its own website complete with games, an adventure club, books, and secret content.While advergames themselves are fun, educational and seemingly harmless, they don’t sit comfortably with government guidelines for healthy eating and physical activity. Most countries have food guidelines. Many countries have laws in place that are supposed to ensure companies do not market junk food to children under the age of 12. With the rise of gaming as a recreational activity in recent years, several countries have lately developed healthy screen time guidelines for children.So, given that societies care a great deal about the health of future generations, it seems that when a food company uses online games to sell sugary foods to children under twelve that something is just not quite right. At worst, there is a complete disconnect between the promise to keep kids healthy and actually doing so. At best, it’s just an odd juxtaposition of means and ends with shareholders ultimately benefiting the most from this clever marketing approach.When you compound the rise of advergaming with the fact that many parents use video games and other sedentary activities as babysitters and that many of us are too busy to cook from scratch, the growing use of games to get kids, little kids, to fall in love with junk food is something that parents need to be aware of. After all, neither governments nor corporations are ultimately responsible for what our kids play and what our kids eat. We are.