The number of hours children spend online has steadily increased in recent years. The average 5-15 year old spends 15 hours a week online and gaming is one of the top activities. In 2016 online overtook TV as top medium for 5-15 year olds.
Brand owners are aware of this and have shifted more and more emphasis on advergames – online games that merge gaming activity with a commercial or brand message. Games feature products, brand messages or brand personalities. Through a process called affect transfer advergames can improve attitudes to brands as the enjoyment of the game, and associated affection, is transferred to the brand.
In the US food and drink manufacturers have come under criticism as it seemed some were using advergames to promote unhealthy attitudes and calorie dense foods to children.
And it seems games don’t even have to feature calorie rich foods – even games that featured fruit were shown in a study (Folkvord et. al, 2016) to increase calorie intake from low nutrition snacks. Only non-food games did not increase food intake.
The way children’s minds process advergames also appears to be different to TV advertising. Whilst children who become aware TV ads are meant to persuade them to buy are less likely to do so, for advergames this is not the case. Whether or not the child is aware that the game wants to persuade them to do something was not found to have any effect on their purchase requests. How enjoyable the game is and how well the game themes fit with the brand, have more impact on purchase intention and brand attitude than whether the child is aware of the persuasive nature of the content. Therefore, adding warnings and advisory notes to advergames is unlikely to reduce their persuasive nature.
A powerful advertising tool indeed – and one that parents should be aware of.