A new report published by the University of Bath has called for urgent government action to protect children from the subconscious effects of ‘advergames’.
The report was launched yesterday by the University’s Institute for Policy Research (IPR).
The report points to how companies are exploiting a regulatory loophole to target children with the electronic games, promoting food and drink products that are high in salt, sugar and fat.
Adverts for these products are banned around children’s television programmes but advergames are a widely used technique to advertise a product, brand or organisation and are accessible on social media sites, company websites and as downloadable content or apps.
The subject of advergames forms the basis of Channel 4 Dispatches programme – Tricks of the Junk Food Business.
The University research suggests, alarmingly, that children as old as 15 do not recognise that advergames are adverts and their food choices are influenced without their conscious awareness.
The report calls for:
- An immediate requirement for an obligatory, clear, uniform labelling system for children’s advergames and in-game advertising;
- Public debate on whether advertising techniques that persuade children subconsciously should be legal;
- Requirement for regulations that apply to advertising of HSSF (high salt, sugar, fat) products on television to extend to children’s websites;
- Public consultation on whether a children’s arm of the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) or an independent council should be set up to oversee marketing to children across all media platforms;
One of the leading authors of the report from the Uni’s School of Management, Dr Haiming Hang, said: “Voluntary industry pledges, for example limiting advertising messages and encouraging healthy lifestyle choices, have done little more than deflect criticism.
“There are fundamental ethical questions to be addressed about the use of advergames, and the government needs to step in to enforce labelling and introduce regulation on a par with television advertising.
“Companies are manipulating children into wanting food and drinks that are high in salt, sugar and fat, against the backdrop of a global obesity crisis.
“They know that when children are absorbed in playing games their cognitive capacity is fully engaged, and they’re not able to stop and think about the purpose of the game or to engage in any sceptism about the source of the message embedded in it.”
To access a copy of the University of Bath IPR policy brief see ‘Advergames: It’s not child’s play’.