University of Bath School of Management University of Bath School of Management

New report says 'advergames' are targeting children by stealth to advertise junk foods

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A new report commissioned by the Family and Parenting Institute says advertisers are using legal loopholes to target under-16s to advertise high-fat, high-sugar junk foods through online ‘advergames’ – video games used to advertise products.

The report, a review of research written by leading child marketing expert and Visiting Research Fellow, Professor Agnes Nairn, with Dr Haiming Hang, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the School of Management, says free online interactive games are being used as advertising by stealth. They are widely available on the internet, can be downloaded as apps or played on smartphones.

Evidence suggests that young brains process advergames differently from traditional advertising and that they can influence children’s behaviour without them being consciously aware of it - raising significant ethical questions.

The study looks at more than 60 studies from 12 different countries. Brands highlighted as using advergames to target children include Chewits, and Swizzels Matlow’s Lovehearts, sponsored by boy band One Direction.

Firms selling food high in sugar, salt and fat are banned from placing adverts on TV around children’s programmes, yet digital advergames encouraging children to eat unhealthy food are escaping regulatory enforcement.

The Code of Advertising Practice states clearly that ‘adverts must be obviously identifiable as such.’ But the new report highlights children as old as 15 can fail to recognise advergames as adverts.

Professor Nairn said: “Parents should be worried because certain food products – banned from being advertised to children on TV because they are harmful – are appearing in advergames. Studies on food manufacturers’ websites show that advergames are used prolifically.”

Julia Cream of the Family and Parenting Institute said: “Most parents are in the dark about advergames and are unaware that their children are being targeted in this way. We would urge parents to sit down with their children and to spot the adverts lurking in the games that they play on their phones, computers and other devices.”

She added: “Following the Bailey Review, Prime Minister David Cameron said he would be asking the Advertising Standards Authority whether more should be done to highlight the commercial intent of advergames to young people and parents. We urge him to maintain the momentum on this.”

Notes to Editors

Dr Haiming Hang is Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the School of Management. Dr Hang’s main areas of research are in consumer judgement and decision-making, and in children’s consumer socialisation and their response to (and how they cope with) different marketing stimuli.

Professor Agnes Nairn, a Visiting Research Fellow at Bath, is a researcher, writer, consultant and speaker on issues related to marketing, ethics and children – issues about which she is passionate. Professor Nairn is Professor of Marketing at EM-Lyon Business School in France. She is also currently advising the UK Government on the implementation of the Bailey Review recommendations.

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General Notes For Editors:

The School of Management is one of the UK's leading business schools. Currently ranked 1st for Student Experience (Times Higher Education 2015) and 1st for Business Studies (The Times & Sunday Times University Guide 2016), we are a leading centre for management research - placed 8th in the UK in the latest REF2014.

We are one of a select number of international business schools accredited by EQUIS, the European Foundation for Management Development's quality inspectorate and the Bath MBA has been accredited by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) since 1976.

The centrality of research to teaching is an essential feature of all our programmes. The School offers a full range of programmes from undergraduate to postgraduate up to PhD level and post-experience programmes including the world-ranked Bath MBA. The School also provides tailored executive development programmes for middle and senior management.

The School of Management has a faculty of over 100 teaching and research staff, including visiting academics, with a professional support team of around 90 managerial and administrative staff. Research income averages £2 million per annum. There are approximately 2,400 students in total comprising some 150 MBA students, over 500 Master’s students, 250 full- and part-time research students, and over 1500 undergraduates following BSc degrees.