Food marketers, "rewriting the rules for reaching children in the Internet age," are using online games and other new media to blur the lines between entertainment and advertising, reports Matt Richtel in an article that ran on the front page of the Times print edition.
General Mills shows up a lot in the article, from the lead about a 10-year-old girl playing and sharing a Honey Nuts Cheerios game...to the recent closing of the company's Millsberry virtual world in compliance with an industry-wide pledge "to reduce marketing of their least nutritious brands to children"...to comScore's reporting that the Lucky Charms site, featuring virtual adventures with Lucky the Leprechaun, had 227,000 visitors in February.
So we'll let General Mills spokeswoman Kirstie Foster have the last words here. The company is "committed to maintaining the highest standards for responsible advertising to children," she said, with sites urging young visitors to take a break every 30 minutes -- and banners identifying the sites as advertising.
Well, maybe not quite the last word. On the Honey Nuts Cheerios site, a small banner reads "Hey kids, this is advertising." Remember the 10-year-old mentioned earlier" She's never noticed the banner before, but when it's pointed out to her and she gets to the last word of the sentence, she says "I don't know that word."
It's advertising. The word is advertising. And that just about sums up the story.