Candy, soft drink, and other snack companies always look for new ways to sell products to kids. Saturday morning ads are unsavory due to high cost. Now some food companies are using a more subtle tactic: kid-friendly game apps for smartphones and tablets that involve food products.
This new tool in the marketing arsenal is becoming quite popular and remains unregulated. The games are typically free, which increases the likelihood of download by parents and kids alike. They are simple, fun, and addictive. They are essentially non-stop commercials for unhealthy snacks.
Melinda Champion, VP of marketing at J&J Snack Foods Corp, makers of SuperPretzel and Icee drinks, said, “The apps are certainly targeted at kids. If you get the kids saying, ‘Mom, I would love a SuperPretzel,’ mom will often buy it for them.”
A new study by Clinical Pediatrics reveals that parents are concerned about the amount of time kids spend with digital devices and the effect on their health. Other parents are okay with food games because they’re not violent.
Because there are no rules yet about advertising to children on the internet, some consumer advocates are now arguing this point. Today, the FCC regulates TV advertising directed at children, but not mobile device ads.
What to do? Parents concerned about what their kids are exposed to online can opt not to download such apps. However, because kids can get creative about downloading apps unsupervised, there are tools to help keep track of apps used on a tablet or smartphone.
For example, Apple’s iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad have a built-in feature to block the installation of apps. (See Restrictions.) Android users can block access to the Google Play/Android Market. The Kindle Fire just added parental controls as well.
Lastly, one software tool worth mentioning is Net Nanny for Android, recent winner of PCMag Editor’s Choice. It includes an app manager which lets parents remotely view, block, or uninstall apps on Android devices which they consider inappropriate.
Russ Warner is President & CEO of ContentWatch, maker of the top-rated desktop and mobile web filter Net Nanny (www.netnanny.com). He is used as an expert source in the national press on a regular basis and speaks regularly on the topic of Internet Safety. Warner was most recently asked to speak at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on what parents can do to help their children navigate the digital age. Under Warner’s leadership, ContentWatch leads an ongoing Internet safety campaign and has conducted seminars for the Utah Coalition Against Pornography, and numerous schools.