Advergaming Arcades Shift Toward Virtual Villages & Kid Vid

ritz_bits_soccer_shootout.jpgWhat do you get when you cross a top-rated TV show like American Idol with online advergaming? “Pop Tarts American Idols Live Tour,” a media+mind+body equation that adds up to a challenging counter-marketing focus for Shaping Youth.

Preteens love “behind the scenes” info and being “in the know” which is why we use the same methods to deprogram corporate cues and promote kids’ wellness through our counter-marketing sessions.

Whether it’s Capri Sun’s AYSO soccer advergame, or the Ritz Bits Soccer Shoot Out, advergaming that sells junk food to kids is a mismatch no matter how many ways you kick it around. Energy balance? Sports tie-ins? I think not. Junk is junk.

Most have heard the whopper stats & studies: Over 500+ free advergames are online beckoning kids, there’s an addictive hook of immersion with online play that burrows the brand deeper, and Kaiser Family Foundation’s 57pp. pdf shows 85% of the top food brands target children through online websites and TV…

All the more reason we need to pay attention to the CONTENT of advergames and ditch the junk food branding their brains. Shaping Youth is seeing SERIOUS crossover between media diets and marketing’s influence in our ‘living labs,’ firsthand…

In our Capri Sun counter-marketing session today, over 90% of the kids had slurped down at least one of the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) pouches within the last 24 hours. They could hum jingles, name taglines, cite celebs and product claims too…egad.

We ask kids to create a media ‘mind & body’ log of their intake to see what they ingest in an average ‘day in the life of a tween.’

“Ain’t pretty”…

Media methods differ with ages, grade levels and socioeconomics, but the branding power and influence is absolutely unmistakable…

I can’t help but imagine what would happen if pitchsters marketed ONLY healthy food with fun and fancy advergames and snazzy foil pouches.

Would kids’ ‘buy into’ a healthier track faster?

Research firm IDC says the online gaming population alone is set to reach 256 million people by 2008. The firm estimates that the U.S. market for ‘casual’ downloadable games will grow to more than $760 million in 2007.

We focus our ‘Dare to Compare’ counter-marketing beyond junk food and gaming so kids can ‘spot the spin’ online, offline, ANYtime by watching for ‘weasel words’ like ‘flavored with’ and ‘tastes like real’ (fill in the blank).

But it just keeps a ‘comin.

This article from Science News called, “How Advertising is Becoming Child’s Play” gives a nice snapshot of the pervasiveness and tactics of advergaming.

It’ll give parents food for thought and a solid primer on how online games engage kids with branded entertainment that reinforces certain products.

Author Janet Raloff cites some stellar research by Elizabeth S. Moore of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, who found 71% of the games asked kids if they wanted to ‘replay,’ more than 2/3 awarded points and almost half offered multiple levels of achievement.

Why does that matter?

Full engagement & immersion, my friend.

Branding kids’ brains with junk food…

Here’s an excerpt from her Science News article explaining the tiered & tailored offerings:

…M&M candies’ site ( features interactive, animated tie-ins to the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Talking candies explain the rules of pirating. Another, more sophisticated offering on this site–aimed at young teens–is a virtual comic book that reveals, page-by-page, what happens to candies in an adventure story dubbed “The Swarm.”

Overall, Moore found, 70 of the Web sites posted at least one game featuring food brands, although most sites had considerably more–one site included 67 separate games. Sites hosting lots of games tended to appeal to young children and typically featured puzzles or games with simple rules, such as memory-testing games.

In others, like Nestlé’s Bop-a-Pop (at, children would earn points for using a virtual mallet to hammer down frozen treats that randomly pop up. But kids had to pay attention, because bopping any of the frogs that occasionally popped up would take away points.

Based on Disney trying to brand fresh fruit, will we soon see advergames pull from media diets of tween TV, for a Hannah Montana Banana? Or healthy Spongebob Smoothies? If there’s a buck to be made, ya never know…

As AdAge reveals advergaming growth, industry response, and targeting of preteens, candy companies are already gearing up to address the legal and ethical responsibility question so they’re not seen as contributing to kids’ obesity.

To be fair, we ALL know candy isn’t on the food pyramid no matter how you market it, so common sense and good parenting comes into play.

But here’s how ‘spin’ works. It’s a classic example of candy industry repositioning:

“The confections industry is missing a great opportunity to introduce a whole new sub-category of better-for-you confections through portion-controlled packaging and labeling, in-pack premiums or novelties that encourage physical activity, and responsible messages that communicate in a simple way the importance of balancing occasional sweet treats with an overall healthy diet and lifestyle.”

Now just apply that same strategy to the plethora of glop and empty calorie crud from sodas, chips, snack packs, fast food, and over-processed junk, and you pretty much have a universal strategy that advertisers will step out into the marketplace.

In fact, I can almost guarantee it. Forewarned is forearmed.

Granted, the FCC has some nebulous new kids-web rules in place as of Jan. 2nd, like the ‘two-click’ policy of e-commerce being a couple layers away from programming…

But what does this really mean with an advergame like Cheetos using a Spy Kids secret agent video spoof where cartoon Chester Cheetah goes ‘undercover’ to ‘save’ the Cheetos recipe?

Does placing ‘e-commerce content’ two clicks away from the main site programming really help kids’ brains from being branded with advergaming junk food?

I think not.

I’ll write a separate piece on the 2007 FCC digital television transitions and various fed conundrums as it all gets rather policy wonky and muddled and I frankly need to sort it out myself and interview some mucky mucks.

Meanwhile, heads up on a few advergaming predictions for 2007:

Advergaming arcades will probably shift a tad to redesigned ‘virtual worlds’ with layers of lures less obvious.

Wrigley’s CandyStand (home to Hubba Bubba bubble gum tape, Life Savers billiards and Sweet Shot Air Hockey freebie arcade games may remain overt, while Millsberry’s cereal arcade and tie-ins with virtual worlds like Neopets embed deeper in the layers, go covert, and might even add an educational slant.

The Millsberry site already boasts a social media makeover with a city and township, citizens, dollars earned, user-generated art gallery where kids can hang their work in the Museum, play advergames at Peabody Park, go to hair salons, clothing stores and the works.

Imagine the power of advergaming if cool interactives like Food Force packed this kind of marketing punch with big bucks behind it instead. Think of all the good things we could do…

My point? Tracking junk food in advergaming may get even more elusive and confusing.

Already ‘sensible snacking’ and ‘smart choices’ abound and companies are jumping on the ‘energy balance’ train to tell kids they can burn off their Capri Suns and Ritz Bits on the soccer field. Riiiiiiiight.

Snack packs and sodas may now be served up in advergames of energy bars and sports drinks…It all takes some keen dissection on the spinmeister front.

Potential policy and voluntary solutions are now available for download from the Children’s Now conference which took place in Washington called, “The Future of Children’s Media: Advertising.” But this game is far from over…

We all applaud the Kids’ Digital Television Agreement as a starter nibble…

But to me, it only represents a single M&M in a jumbo 52oz. bag.

p.s. I wrote an advergaming article for Common Sense Media awhile back called Kids Gobble Up Interactive Junk Food Marketing and realized I never posted it to our own Shaping Youth line-up. Here it is now, with updated links. Be well!



  1. Advergames aren’t just for kids (no pun intended). Our site is designed for everyone with a focus on “Only the very best Advergames!” Please try the site out for yourself at We are trying to provide a unique look at the state of the advergames industry in one easy to use location.

    With a balance of great advergames from many different kinds of sponsors, the focus of advergaming can be more than targeting kids to eat too much junk food. Advergames are more than a way to trick kids into wanting something to eat or drink. See for yourself. Have some fun and tell your friends about us. Our site is free and lots of fun!
    We will launch a young person’s site in the future called When we do, we hope you will appreciate our concerns, many of which we share with you. We will include kid friendly education about both marketing and advertising to raise awareness while providing a free destination for boys and girls from all over.
    Thank you very much!

    Tony Giallourakis

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