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Ads watchdog bans Weetabix app

Weetabix has been ordered to remove its WeetaKid app after a watchdog ruled that it was likely to make children feel inferior if they did not eat the company's products.

The app included two games featuring the WeetaKid character and started with prompts such as "I've given you access to a place you can go every day to get all the energy you need" and "Do you have a WeetaKid Weetabix box?".

Players who responded in the negative received a message reading: "What?! No Weetabix?! Why make things harder for yourself?" and "Remember what I told you! A failure to prepare is preparation for failure!", "You're not eating your Weetabix? What about the extra energy? Oh good heavens!" or "No Weetabix? Disaster!"

Professor Agnes Nairn, who investigates issues related to marketing, ethics and children, and the Family and Parenting Institute complained that 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" and included a direct exhortation to children to buy an advertised product.

Weetabix said the game took place in an imaginary and fantastical world, arguing that children who played computer games disassociated what happened in them from the real world and interpreted messages only as a means to continue with the game.

It acknowledged that it was possible that messages and actions in the game might have an impact on children's food preferences, but said that in itself did not constitute a breach of advertising regulations.

But the Advertising Standards Authority said it was concerned that the language and tone of many of the prompts, such as "What?! No Weetabix?!" and "Tired is not a good look for you. Why not eat something?" was persuasive and negative, and could lead children to understand that if they did not eat Weetabix they were failing in some way.

It ruled that the app must not appear again in its current form and added: "We told Weetabix to ensure that their marketing communications that were directly targeted at children did not exploit their credulity or vulnerability or make them feel inferior if they did not buy, or ask their parents to buy, Weetabix's products."

Family and Parenting Institute and Daycare Trust chief executive Anand Shukla said: "Most parents don't know what an 'advergame' is. Nor do most children. The ASA agreed with us that the Weetabix advergame could exploit children's vulnerability and was likely to make them feel inferior if they didn't buy or encourage their parents to buy Weetabix products.

"Weetabix have now had to remove the advergame from its website. It was available for 16 months before we spotted it and we have serious concerns about what else is out there. Families need to be vigilant and look with new eyes at the games their children play online, on iPads and smartphones."

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