Parents beware! It’s not just a game — it’s finely tuned brand integration system designed to generate more frequent and more piercing purchase requests in grocery store aisles.

Advergaming — online games that feature brand elements, like slogans, colors, packaging and characters — are the latest tactic in a decades long campaign to attract kids, some of the most vocal and insistent influencers in the market place. From Skittles to Fruit Loops, new media marketers are urging children to score points, guide characters through mazes and solves mysteries –­ all while surrounded by brand touch points.

In a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a staggering 97 percent of the 500 advergames analyzed included at least one brand element on every screen of the game. Two-thirds of the games were described as “inundated” with brand identifiers, prompting the study’s author to note a child who plays the game to the terminus is essentially immersed in a sea of brand and product stimuli.

The impact of this extended interaction remains a hotly contested topic. While proponents dote on the relative innocuous nature of the games and underscore the lack of a direct sales pitch, family and consumer advocate groups maintain the depth and length of the connection forged during game play could unfairly leverage a child’s lack of a sophisticated message filtration system.

 Few, if any, of the advergaming sites included in the Kaiser study forwarded a blatant sales appeal. As suggested earlier, these games are about forging a lasting brand relationship with the targeted segment. Attention is the commodity on the block with these games, not actual sales, according to Samantha Skey, spokesperson for Alloy Media, a company that specializes in marketing to children. Skey added television affords about 30 seconds for a company to initiate and solidify a relationship with the viewer; advergames can be as long as 30 minutes, giving a company 60 times the opportunity to forge such relationships.

Companies that seek to leverage a child’s role as purchase decision influencer tread perilously close to taking advantage of the segment’s underdeveloped message filtration system. The real problem is no two parents or two marketing professionals are likely to agree on the break of that line. However, extremists on both ends of the spectrum should be shunted closer to the middle.

Marketing professionals who espouse an open-ended approach to youth marketing are ignoring the obvious disadvantages of their target audience. Children are not equipped to screen exaggerated benefits claims nor have they defined themselves enough to dismiss wild aspiration appeals. In short, they are kids and take messages and appeals at face value. Failing to acknowledge this fact and act accordingly is irresponsible marketing.
Equally irresponsible are advocate groups who propose an “ad-free” childhood. Marketing messages are part of life, ignoring them leaves the child woefully unprepared to handle the deluge that follows after the blinders are removed.

Final Bark
As marketing professionals flesh out new, more personal and more interactive means of addressing difficult to reach audiences like children, the peril of fielding these tactics lies not in the ultimate success or failure of the measure ­ this can be easily gauged in testing, but rather with the parents and child advocacy groups. In short, reaching the children may prove to be the easiest part of this equation, sidestepping a public backlash from frustrated parents and irate advocates will be the highest hurdle to clear. The influence of existing and potential backlash can already be found in the modern advergaming atmosphere.

They're job is to protect the world, ours is to keep them safe.

They're job is to explore the world, ours is to keep them safe.



There’s an infomercial currently airing in which a woman suggests her computer skills lag significantly behind those of her 3-year-old daughter. The woman could be a complete idiot (entirely possible), her daughter might be a genius (less likely) or she was asked to exaggerate for effect (bingo!).

Still there is a nugget of truth in that advertising rhetoric. The next generation is growing up with far more access to emerging technology than any previous age group. Kids as young as 2 and 3 are gifted toy cell phones and laptops, preparing them for an easy transition into the real items.

This increased familiarity imposes new responsibilities on those charged with designing marketing messages for the younger set as well as those who cultivate brand relationships. It negates any defense that the target audience lacks enough sophistication to get itself into trouble and it demands the marketers provide a solid foundation for future use of new media.

First, marketing pros must provide a safe environment for children to communicate with one another. A plethora of new sites feature interactive elements, including internal chat platforms and virtual realms, that cry out for improved checks and balances relating to secure access. Most of the sites, like or, simply require a purchase to receive a code. From there, anyone of any age with any agenda can register,
set up their online persona and begin conversing. At the very least, companies fielding such services should monitor the discussions for any sign of inappropriate language. In addition, registration should require some imprint from a parent or guardian. The form should clearly state in legible print that parents are encouraged to monitor their child’s
interaction with the site as well as note the inability of any Web site to provide 100 percent security.

Second, marketers utilizing new media in reaching children should provide ample framework for the child as they move into pre-teen and teen years. We need to teach 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds ways of protecting themselves while still enjoying the communicative advantages of today’s emerging media. In addition to tutorials provided within the actual chat room platforms, the Direct Marketing Association should consider fielding a progressive public service campaign underscoring safe surfing and chatting techniques.

The final bark
Alexander Pope once said a little knowledge is a dangerous thing … So true when dealing with children. They know enough to utilize new media but not enough to keep themselves safe. That responsibility falls to those of us who have outgrown Saturday morning cartoons.