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It’s Just a Game…

February 4th, 2012 - By Therese Madden

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Food and beverage companies are pushing online product games with the long term goal of creating brand identity and loyal customers. The official term is “advertgames.” Studies show they keep a kids attention longer than a television commercial and get passed around quickly through the powers of social media. But who are the losers?


Life Savers Candystand Mini-golf

We hear that kids are different these days, in all sorts of ways. But some things haven’t changed. Here’s an example, “children are spending as much time with TV and exposed to TV ads as they ever have been.” That’s Amy Jordan, she’s the Director of the Media and the Developing Child sector of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “But what has changed in the last 10 or 15 years are the number of new media that have been introduced in children’s lives. So, in addition to the three or so hours of TV a day they are also spending an hour online, a half hour playing video games, and it really adds up. So, it means that children are exposed to more and more messages than ever before.”

More messages to buy sugary drinks, candy, fast food, or junky cereal. The messenger in this case is called the “advertgame.” It’s part advertisement and part game. 11th grader Mikhail is playing Life Savers® mini-golf on the computer, “basically you have to get the ball in with the lifesaver wrapper. So, the ball can come down, and you can get par.” It’s a very mellow game and Mikhail says his parents prefer this game to the more violent options out there, like Grand Theft Auto. He also realizes this is advertising and that it works.

Bag of Doritos in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

“Anytime I play the game, I want to eat Life Savers. Most of the time after I play I go out and buy Life Savers, or if I know I am going to go home and play it I will buy Life Savers before.” Amy Jordan explains that these advertgames or computer games are different than video games. “There are video games and computer games. Video games like in an Xbox, there will be occasionally a product in background, snack chips or Mountain Dew®. But, computer games are often built around a product, a product like sugary cereals, or sugary beverages.”

Older product placement video games

Back in the 70s, commercials with cute, kid-friendly characters selling sugary cereal were on for 15 or 30 seconds. Then on to the show or another ad. These days, kids go on the computer and are greeted by this same leprechaun, but he invites them in. “Hello my friend.” From there they can spend hours on treasure hunts, maps, and great races. Jennifer Harris is the Director of Marketing initiatives at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, she says from an advertising perspective, these games can be pretty effective. “We have data on how much time kids spend and some of the interactive ones kids are there 60 minutes a month, which is a lot more time than a 30 second TV ad.”

It’s also a lot cheaper to produce a website than buy ad time on television. Some food companies have whole websites that are all fun and games, kids find out about them through links on TV commercials, the back of the cereal box, or though friends or Facebook friends. “The viral part is very disturbing. The fact that kids now tell other kids about this advertising is going to be much more effective than just seeing something on television. All the major food companies that target children have their own Facebook page and children sign up as fans of those pages and when they are on Facebook they are getting continual reminders of these foods that they are friends with.”

According to Harris, it’s very hard to find an advertgame dedicated to healthy eating. At least in the olden days Pac-Man was eating a lot of fruit.

Photo by Flicker user celesteh / CC BY-NC 2.0

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Photo by Flicker user Chiot's Run / CC BY-NC 2.0

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