Social networks for kids - the backdoor for banned brands

Bitterwallet - McWorld monkey pimpIf you want a glimpse into how global corporations are getting round pesky rules to brainwash kids, we can highly recommend dressing up as a purple monkey pimp and taking a wander around McWorld. It's a series of games and virtual chatrooms hosted by McDonalds, and while it's been around in one form or another for a couple of years, such portals are becoming increasingly popular because they sidestep regulations on advertising to children that restrict or ban certain products.

If McDonald's can keep little kiddie-winkies in their happy, shiny world for long periods of time, then they'll not only imprint the Golden Arches on their synapses now, but they stand to convert them into lifelong customers. It's an example of engagement-based marketing; fostering a relationship based on brand loyalty and desire. Turn on Nickeloden or the Cartoon Network, and commercial breaks are stuffed with adverts for this type of activity - why tell kids to drink Coca-Cola when you can create desire for it?

Bitterwallet - McWorld

Ever heard of WeeWorld? Kids are going mental for it right now. It's an avatar-based social network aimed at "teens and women" but you'll find primary school children on there too. How does it work? "WeeWorld social games and applications stay true to the iconic WeeMee style and seamlessly integrate top consumer brands (Coca-Cola, Disney, Energizer) and celebrities (Justin Bieber, Jason Derulo) via virtual goods and other interactive experiences."

Why is this an issue? One reason is that adults are aware of commercial messages and when we're being sold to, but kids don't. As for our social network activity, we can choose which brands we engage - you won't see Coca-Cola appear in your Facebook timeline unless you choose to. But there's also the reason that targeting products at children was restricted in the first place - when the changes to advertising rules were introduced in 2007, around one-third of children aged 2-15 are either overweight or obese.

Not that McWorld is that subtle. It's riddled with very obvious advertising messages and imagery. For example, the loading icon while waiting for McWorld to load:

Bitterwallet - McWorld Happy Meal icon

And while your kids can explore McWorld without registering their details with Mcdonalds, they'll lose out as a result:

Bitterwallet - McWorld Happy Meals

There is a potential fly in the ointment for these brands - good parenting. Kids are becoming very adept at using computers, so these sites are becoming a natural extention of their playtime. It takes effort to ban children from spending time in these product-pimping networks when all their school friends are there, but since regulatory bodies can't stop this type of marketing, it's the parent who is the last line of defence between the corporations and their kids.

1 comment

  • Nancy
    I would like to disagree. It doesn't take any money to join. I tried it myself. I wanted to make sure it was appropriate for my daughter, who happens to love it, and I let her on the computer twice a week. She says it is the best website she's ever been on and I say it is a good website for kids and there's nothing bad about it. Yes, it is advertising the Happy Meal but it is a good website for kids to play on as long as you limit their time. I give my daughter 1 hour on the computer twice a week every week.

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