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ASA upholds complaint against Weetabix online app targeting kids

13-Feb-2013

The UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has upheld a complaint against Weetabix’s online app WeetaKid and ruled that the app can no longer exist in its current form.

The WeetaKid app has been online since September 2011 but is now unavailable on the brand’s website. 

ASA said that the app targeted at children exploits their credulity and vulnerability and could make them feel inferior for not eating Weetabix products.

The ruling published today relates to a complaint filed back in December 2012 from Professor Agnes Nairn and the Family and Parenting Institute.

The app features two games where children can re-energize a character called ‘Nibbles’ by scanning in QR (Quick Response) codes from Weetabix packs.

The complainants challenged whether the app exploited the credulity, loyalty, vulnerability or lack of experience of children by making them feel inferior or unpopular for not buying a product.

Weetabix defends but admits food preferences might be impacted

While broadly defending the online app, Weetabix did acknowledge that it was possible messages and actions in the game may impact on children’s food preferences. However, it said that this in itself did not constitute a breach of the CAP Code (Committee of Advertising Practice).

In defense Weetabix said that the game could be played without purchasing any branded products.

“The QR code on Weetabix packs, which prompted the augmented reality 4D animation, added a fun and inventive aspect to the app but was not essential to game-play; players could play the game without having that experience,” it said.

It added that the game took place in an “imaginary and fantastical world” and said the impact of words and phrases used in the game should be viewed in that context.

Children who play computer games disassociate what happens in the game from the real world and are also familiar with the ‘energy bar’ mechanic used in many computer games, Weetabix said.

“In that context, messages appearing within the game would only be interpreted as a means to continue with the game, rather than as an explicit or implicit instruction in relation to the child’s actions in the real world,” it added.

Persuasive and negative tone, finds ASA

ASA did acknowledge that game-play was not impacted by use of QR codes but said the impression was on the contrary.

The character and prompts when navigating the screen include wording which implied strongly that game-play would be positively affected if players scanned the QR code or negatively affected if they failed to do so, the agency ruled.

Character comments included ‘I’ve given you access to a place you can go every day to get all the energy you need… It will make you faster, stronger and more agile for the quest ahead’ and prompts included ‘No Weetabix! Disaster! Don’t make things harder for yourself!’ and ‘Remember what I told you! A failure to prepare is preparation for failure!’.

The ASA described such language as “persuasive and negative” and said it could lead children to understand that if they did not eat Weetabix they were failing in some way.

“We concluded that the app exploited children’s credulity and vulnerability and was likely to make them feel inferior if they did not eat, buy or encourage their parents to buy Weetabix,” it said.

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