There is less breadth but more depth in the marketing of food products to children on the Internet compared to television, according to a new study by Elizabeth Moore from the University of Notre Dame.
Titled “It’s Child’s Play: Advergaming and the Online Marketing of Food to Children,” the study is the first comprehensive analysis of the nature and scope of online food advertising to children. Concerned about increased levels of childhood obesity, policymakers in Congress, the Federal Trade Commission, the Institute of Medicine and other agencies have raised questions about Internet marketing to children, but also have pointed to a lack of scientific data on the issue. Conducted in collaboration with the Kaiser Family Foundation and released last week, Moore’s study is intended to fill the gap.
Moore, an associate professor of marketing who specializes in the effects of advertising on children, found that 85 percent of the top food brands that target children through television advertising also use branded Web sites to market to children online.
“The difference between Internet and traditional TV advertising,” Moore said, “is that, while television reaches a larger audience, online marketing is much deeper. When a child goes to the Internet, this is by definition an interactive process, so the nature of the experience is much more engaging and may last for several minutes.”
For example, Moore reported, 73 percent of the sites include “advergames,” online contests in which a food company’s product or brand characters are featured, and 64 percent of the sites use viral marketing techniques that encourage children to contact their peers about a specific product or brand.
The study also found the widespread use of traditional marketing tools, including sweepstakes and promotions, memberships, on-demand access to television advertisements, and incentives for product purchases.
Using data from Competitive Media Reports, Moore identified the top food brands advertised to children on television and then searched for corporate or brand Web sites for the products. Any child-oriented brand that was in the top 80 percent of television advertising spending in its product category was included in the study. Ninety-six brands were identified through this process. Web sites for these brands were included in Moore’s study if they had content likely to be of interest to children ages 12 and under. The result was 77 unique Web sites and more than 4,000 unique Web pages were analyzed. The content of the sites was studied between June and November 2005.
Among other findings from the survey:
Just over half of the sites include television commercials available for viewing.
Almost 40 percent have incentives for children to purchase food so they can collect brand points or stamps that can be exchanged for premiums such as access to new online games or the purchase of brand-related clothing.
About half of the sites provided nutritional information such as that found on product labels, and 44 percent included a nutritional claim such as “good source of vitamins and minerals.”
More than three-quarters of the sites offer at least one extra brand-related option such as screensavers or wallpaper for a child’s computer, printable coloring pages, branded CD covers, or brand logos or characters that can “live” on a child’s computer.
Thirty-five percent provided educational content, such as facts about dinosaurs, astronomy and geography.
Almost all of the sites provide some information for parents, but fewer than 20 percent include an “ad break” or message to children that the site includes advertising.
Moore has been a member of the Notre Dame faculty since 1999. Her research on issues related to marketing and society also includes the study of consumer decision processes within households. She earned her doctorate from the University of Florida.
The Kaiser Family Foundation is a non-profit, private operating foundation dedicated to providing information and analysis on health care issues to policymarkers, the media, the health care community and the public.
Contacts: Elizabeth Moore, 574-631-6263 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Vicky Rideout, vice president and director of the Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health at the Kaiser Family Foundation, 650-854-940, or email@example.com
The Kaiser Family Foundation contributed to this report.
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