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 obesity for national Public Health. After all, it’s well established that advertising unhealthy food to 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 Children‘s 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 Jack‘s Shake & Win, which generates vouchers for free or discounted food when users shake their phone at any Hungry Jack’s store.
There’s also KFC‘s 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.”
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
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