I admit it, I used to be addicted to The Sims.
Maxis won me over with its ability to control an entire world. Suddenly, any 13 year-old barely passing algebra could be dictator of a small city. Feeding your Sim pizza was the equivalent of feeding it a toaster pastry. Two hours later, you were likely to have a whining digital figure on your hands, waving its arms at you while its "Hunger" bar flashed in the red. Art mirroring life! Or perhaps, early-advergame mirroring life?
Advergames are a mix of advertising, videos, and interactive media displayed online to promote products and brands. An analysis done by researchers at UC Davis and published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that, on average, only a single healthy message of nutrition or physical activity appeared for every 45 brand name flashes in these advergames. The analysis looked at products being advertised through the websites of two childhood favorites: Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. Advergames were the most popular strategy of advertising on both, with a whopping 84% of the 290 total web pages including one.
Researchers hope that this new data will encourage food companies to develop guidelines for sending their delicious but un-nutritous messages to children. Michelle Obama has already begun the campaign with her "Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation" program. However, the UC Davis researchers recommend that the federal government steps in.
Though childhood obesity is a problem, this seems somewhat extreme. Perhaps a study is first needed on how effective these advergames are in convincing children, and then how easily the advergame is transferred into an actual sale. Until then, the subliminal messages behind the games are just a distraction.
Will we soon see Count Chocula passing on his namesake for organic carob chips? Will Willy Wonka's factories be forced to fill their advergames with Oompa Loompas doing thirty minutes of physical exercise five times a week?