The Wall Street Journal recently reported that food makers are now using mobile apps to target potential consumers, many of whom are children. Snack companies are giving away free games with names like “Cookie Dough Bites Factory” and “Icee Maker.” The games are easy to operate and built for touch-screen devices like phones and tablets. The games’ rudimentary controls ensure that even small children can operate the game.
The apps are much cheaper for brands than running television commercials and might prove to be even more effective—Icee Maker has been downloaded over 8 million times. The Federal Communications Commission already have regulations for commercials directed at children, but since there are no such regulations on the internet, the food companies have free range to advertise to children in any way they want.
It seems like an effective strategy: create an addictive game that children can associate with a potentially addictive snack food. But is the gamification of food advertising being directed solely at children? Far from it! Apps like Coca-Cola Beat Maker (with an advertising campaign that tied into the Olympics) are designed for teenagers and young adults.
As smartphones and tablets continue to grow in popularity (mobile is expected to be the most popular way to browse the internet within five years) snack companies are going to find new, more inventive ways to trigger food cravings. In essence, mobile devices are going to continue to act as interactive billboards for food companies, so long as they can develop engaging content.
For individuals who deal with food addiction/compulsive overeating, these apps can be especially dangerous as they are designed to associate a pleasurable experience with a particular food. It’s important for individuals who tend toward food addiction to avoid using these food-inspired apps whenever possible. Parents should also be aware of the games that their children are playing on phones and tablets since childhood years are formative for establishing healthy eating habits.