Sunday, December 7, 2008

Advergames - The Controversy

Our assignment this week focused on the ethical issues of marketing to children online. Through this assignment I learned a lot about advergames. Growing up in the 80’s I was exposed to home-based Coleco video games such as Q-Bert and Donkey Kong but that’s all they were –games not advertisements. Apparently things have changed and online video games are now one of the biggest marketing tools when targeting children. Little did I know that video games now a days a much more than just trying to have the coolest graphics – it’s about influencing children to engage with a brand outside of the home as well. Advergames are particularly used for children’s cereal brands. Basically advergames are a video game that somehow incorporates the brand’s product, logo, slogan or mascot/character into the game. Some games require children to enter in secret passcodes that can be only obtained by buying the products themselves.

As Lelchuk states “To assess how big these "advergames" are, researchers looked at the 77 Web sites of top food companies such as Kellogg's and Wrigley's. They found that between June and November of 2005, these sites had more than 12.2 million visits by children” (Lelchuk).

To show just how sophisticated advergames have become check out these statistics from Kaiser Family Foundation Study:
- Many of the advergames included various features to encourage repeat playing.
- 25 percent of the sites offered a membership opportunity for children age 12 or under, such as registering or joining a club to get access to special activities or secret games.
- 13 percent of the sites include polls or quizzes, often used to ask opinions about products.
- Nearly half the sites include a movie or TV tie-in.
- 38 percent of the sites offer incentives to get the user to buy more food so he or she can collect points, which can then be exchanged for new games, brand-related clothes or other products. (Lelchuk).

Advergames have done a great job of blending in customer engagement, sales promotion, branding and database marketing. The ethical debate comes about when advergames unfairly take advantage of the innocence of children in order to influence them to buy unhealthy products. My take on the subject is that if the advergame is simply just a game that features the product or company mascot then fine. On the other hand though, I think it is unethical for companies to link access to playing the advergame with information that can only be obtained by buying more of the product. I think this is unethical because then the child is encouraged to ask their parents to buy a product that they may really not care for the product itself but are more interested in just playing the game.
The balance of using advergames in an ethical manner will continue to be a challenge for marketers who are trying to target a youth audience that is very fickle and easily influenced by the internet.

- Patrick

Lelchuk, Ilene. Retrieved from

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