Advergame Research Reported By Media Around the World

Posted on: October 22, 2013

Games2-Sized2A study by a group of researchers in the College of Communication Arts & Sciences and College of Agriculture & Natural Resources that targets the unhealthy foods marketed to children through online video games, or advergames, is receiving a lot of attention in the media.

Several news organizations from around the world have published stories about the research, including MSN, HealthDay, Science Daily, Slate magazine, "Chicago Tribune," The Huffington Post, and Canada's "The Globe and Mail."

The study was first published in the Sept. 26, 2013, issue of Preventing Chronic Disease of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The article, "Consistency of Nutrition Recommendations for Foods Marketed to Children in the United States," was accompanied by a podcast by the co-lead authors of the article - Elizabeth Taylor Quilliam, Assistant Professor and Associate Director of Children's Central in the Advertising + Public Relations department, who also has an appointment in AgBioResearch, and Lorraine Weatherspoon, Associate Professor and Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics in the Food Science and Human Nutrition department.

The research team located hundreds of advergames actively played by children on food marketer websites. Advergames are video games that contain advertisements for products, services or companies and are typically offered for free.

For the study, the team focused on 145 different websites and found 439 food brands being promoted through advergames on those sites. What they found was that many of the games centered around high-fat, high-sugar and high-sodium products.

"Compared to a typical TV commercial that would last maybe 30 seconds, these games are fun and engaging and children can play them for much longer periods of time," Quilliam said. "They are really virtually playing with food, and the line between entertainment and advertising gets blurred because children don't have the cognitive skills necessary to recognize a persuasive message when it's hidden as entertainment."

One issue addressed in the study is that there are no consistent standards for what can or cannot be marketed to children and how the marketing should be done.

"We firmly believe that some kind of federally mandated policy needs to be addressed, especially when it comes to children so that there is better control on the type and amount of marketing as well as the kinds of foods that are promoted," Weatherspoon said. "And, this is not just a big problem in the United States. I think that it's a global corporate responsibility. Our children are our future and, unfortunately, the fact is that most of this marketing is subject to industry self-regulation and not necessarily governed by a health-centered approach."

The research is funded through a $407,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health. Other accepted and forthcoming articles on this research will be published in Internet Research and the International Journal of Advertising.

The other authors of the study include Nora Rifon, Professor, Advertising + Public Relations; Hye-Jin Paek, Associate Professor and Chair of the Division of Advertisement and Publicity, Hanyang University, South Korea; Mira Lee, Assistant Professor, School of Business Administration, Chung-Ang University, South Korea; Sookyong Kim, Media and Information Studies doctoral student; and Food Science and Human Nutrition doctoral students Sumathi Venkatesh and Julie Plasencia.

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