The Sneaky Way Fast Food Restaurants Are Targeting Your Kids

When restrictions were finally placed on fast-food restaurant advertisements aimed at Australian children, it was thought to be a powerful step forward in the battle against child obesityfor national Public Health. After all, it’s well established thatadvertising unhealthy foodto children is a public no-no.

Enter the blurry line between advertising and entertainment: the smart phone app.

Fast-food restaurant apps that promote discount food and giveaways are not classified as ads. They’re able to side-step current self-regulated advertising restrictions such as the Responsible Childrens Marketing Initiative and hone in on their real target market: children.

Shake & Win

Here in Australia, we have many popular apps that are essentially an advertisement hidden behind an interactive game. For example, you can play Hungry Jacks Shake & Win, which generates vouchers for free or discounted food when users shake their phone at any Hungry Jack’s store.

There’s also KFCs Snack! In the Face app, a simple game which culminates in almost every player receiving a free snack at the end. This includes vouchers for bacon rollers, nuggets or popcorn chicken. What’s more, they can even be ‘gifted’ to friends via Facebook.

Jane Martin, executive manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition, told Medical Observer: “It is hard for children to tell the difference between advertising and entertainment this is advertising dressed up as entertainment. There are a lot of loopholes.”

The KFC app’s disclaimer says downloads are restricted to players 14 years and older. For some reason in this country 14 years of age is no longer classified as a child with regards to advertising.

Apps Designed to Get Teens Hooked

In 2012, the Shake & Win app’s predecessor, known as Hungry Jacks Makes it Better, had a 15-year old hooked. The obese teen was a patient of pediatric Dietitian Caroline Trickey.

“When we talk about children we inlcude adolescents, and certainly most adolescents have a smartphone and are into apps like that,” she said to the Daily Telegraph.

Her patient would reportedly use it on the way home from school with friends every day. Invariably one of them would win some free food each afternoon.

Ms. Trickey went on to say, “We know that developing an overweight issue in adolescence carries through into adulthood, so while the app may not be targeted at primary school-age children, adolescents will still definitely be targeted, and it’s still irresponsible.”

Self-Regulation Failure

The reason companies are and will continue to get away with such unethical marketing practices is due to the fact that current advertising restrictions are ‘self-regulated.’ Asking fast-food companies to do the right thing by the public, rather than shareholders was never going to be successful.

According to Choice research, independent surveys in Europe, Asia, North America and Australia have all found that self-regulation by the food and beverage industries has made little impact on the amount of advertising seen by kids in the last five years.

Conveniently however, The Australian Food and Grocery Council has argued that self-regulation is a success.

The food and beverage industry continually argue that responsible parents should educate their kids about eating unhealthy food in moderation as part of a balanced diet and lifestyle. Too bad they undermine parents every step of the way by creating app games, sponsoring children’s sports, investing in viral marketing and spamming social media — all with the goal of influencing your child’s preferences.

What are your thoughts? Are fast-food companies bending the rules here with game apps, or playing fair?

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for the article.

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se3 years ago

Sad that corporations USE our kid for profit and even more sad is governments allows it......

Aleisha D.
Aleisha D3 years ago

Mmmmm, not so sneaky now! Cheeky buggers

PJ Chartrand
PJ C3 years ago

My son and I solved that problem by showing my seven year old granddaughter pink slime. She's already a picky eater but after seeing that and having it explained to her she's improved. Her Dad eats clean so he's constantly trying to educate her on food and what it does for and to her body and I'm constantly trying to teach her what advertisers are trying to do. The word NO in and of itself isn't enough, even a small child does better understanding why NO is the appropriate answer.

Kelly Davis-steel
Kelly s3 years ago


Brad H.
Brad H3 years ago


Danuta Watola
Danuta W3 years ago

Thanks for sharing

A F.
Athena F3 years ago

Teach your children well

Rehana VN
Rehana VN3 years ago

Kids are easy targets. Parents should be in control to guide their kids.

Alina Kanaski
Alina Kanaski3 years ago

I wasn't aware of this, thanks for sharing.