Food marketing: child's play?

We take a look at how food is marketed to children, and what the problems are.
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  • Updated:6 Mar 2007

02.Cyberspace marketing

laptop and bowl of noodlesChildren and teenagers are computer-savvy, and with over 70% of all households with children under 15 having access to the internet at home, they’re easily exposed to advertising through this channel.

What’s worrying is that online marketing isn’t subject to the current voluntary code of practice for advertising to children, which applies to print, TV and radio advertising only. Even the most vigilant parent might struggle to protect their child from some forms of online marketing that can fly under the radar.

Online marketing techniques include:


The idea behind ‘advertainment’ isn’t to deliver a straightforward “buy my product” message, but rather to work on the branding aspect, to build a relationship with the children. Food company websites often have dedicated kids’ sections, with games and quizzes that incorporate the food products, logos and company ‘spokes-characters’.

  • Games on the McDonald’s website include a memory game, catch the nuggets and connect the dots, all featuring McDonald’s spokes-characters such as Ronald McDonald and the Hamburgler.
  • YoGo Alley from National Foods is a veritable online games arcade, with many of the games giving children the opportunity to beat other competitors. Daily competitions or monthly prizes encourage repeat visits, and sometimes an access code or barcode from the product is required to play.
  • The Maggi Noodles website (from Nestlé) encourages kids to join and become a ‘Noodolbot’, so they can
    “receive special newsletters, hear about new games and cool stuff from Noodolbot and Maggi”.


  • Websites encourage children to send electronic cards to their friends via email. The cards generally display images and logos of products and invite the kids who receive them to visit and join the website club or play online games.

Cyber game product placement

Food companies are incorporating their products and brand into popular computer games or game websites.

  • A version of the incredibly popular THE SIMS game has a McDonald’s kiosk as a place of employment for its virtual characters. Players can earn virtual money from running the virtual business, and the characters who eat the food served there earn credits for both ‘hunger’ and ‘fun’.


  • Many food company websites offer users free screensavers or wallpaper. Ultimately, these work as semi-permanent ads, ensuring daily exposure to a brand.

Viral marketing

  • Instead of using traditional advertising to promote Real Fruit Winders in the UK, Kellogg’s launched an interactive website including animated icons that children could email to each other. As the agency responsible described it: 
    “Activity focused on reaching playground leaders who could be relied upon to spread the word, ensuring a trickle-down effect on awareness and sales.”

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