ASA Ruling on Weetabix Ltd
13 February 2013
Internet (OM 3rd party), Internet (on own site), In-game (apps), In-game (offline), In-game (online)
Food and drink
Number of complaints:
BBH Partners LLP
Summary of Council decision:
Four issues were investigated, of which one was Upheld and three were Not upheld.
One app and 14 games, all Weetabix product-branded, which could be accessed via the home page and “Wholesome Fun” web page of the www.weetabix.co.uk website:
a. The “WeetaKid” app, which used interactive QR (Quick Response) technology for iPhones, iPods and iPads, could be downloaded via a link on the Weetabix website. The app included two games, in which players controlled the WeetaKid character to collect items to populate WeetaKid’s ‘world’. When first opening the app, a character, called Nibbles, explained the game in a series of messages, including “Now the road ahead is tough, and you will need all the energy you can get ... But 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.” An arrow appeared, which pointed to a grey ‘W’ icon in the top left-hand corner of the screen. Tapping on the ‘W’ icon brought up Nibbles and the text “Do you have a Weetakid Weetabix box?” with “Yes” and “No” options. If the player answered “No”, Nibbles appeared along with one of a series of messages, such as “What?! No Weetabix?! Why make things harder for yourself?”, “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! Don’t make things harder for yourself!”. If the player answered “Yes”, they were prompted to use their device to interact with the Weetabix pack. A 3D animation appeared in which the WeetaKid character jumped into a bowl of Weetabix and ate the Weetabix. Nibbles appeared with the message “Now you’ve had your Weetabix, your badge is energised and so are you. ... It will boost you in game to make you faster and more invincible ...”. The ‘W’ icon changed to become brighter and more colourful (‘energised’). The “W” icon ‘de-energised’ and turned grey again overnight, regardless of how much game-play had been engaged in during the day.
Another icon, of Nibbles (the ‘Nibbles icon’), in the top right-hand corner of the screen, navigated players to the games screen, where players could select one of two games to play. When the ‘W’ icon was energised, players could navigate directly to the games screen via the Nibbles icon. When the ‘W’ icon was de-energised, one of a series of messages appeared, along with Nibbles, before players could navigate to the games screen, such as “Do you want some Weetabix to get some extra energy?”, “You haven’t eaten! Why don’t you do it now?”, “Tired is not a good look for you. Why not eat something?”, “I really think you should eat something. How about it?”, “How about some Weetabix for extra energy?”, or “How about we put an extra spring in your step and eat something?”. Each message included “Yes” and “No” options. If players tapped on the “No” option, they were taken through to the games screen. If players tapped on the “Yes” option, an arrow appeared pointing to the ‘W’ icon, as a prompt for players to tap on it and scan the QR code on a Weetabix pack.
b. The “Weetos Moustache Combat” game on the Weetos website, www.weetos.co.uk, in which a boy, controlled by the player, fought a giant moustache against various backgrounds over five levels. An ‘intro’ before the game showed the moustache training in a gym. Text displayed beneath the game stated “ENGAGE IN THE ULTIMATE COMBAT WITH THE WORLD’S STRONGEST MOUSTACHE COMPETE WITH YOUR FRIENDS ON [Facebook logo] ... TEST YOUR STRENGTH ... SURVIVAL OF THE BUSHIEST”.
The following games were available on the “GAMES” page of the Nickelodeon website, www.nick.co.uk:
c. “WeetaKid”, in which the aim was to control a character in collecting as many Weetabix as possible against the clock.
d. “Bounce the Bix”, in which the player controlled a girl holding a trampoline, and the aim was to bounce as many Weetabix Chocolate Spoonsizes as they could into a bowl of milk. Teddy bears appeared in the background during the game.
e. “Weetos Eruption”, in which Weetos flew out of a Weetos pack, and the aim was to click on as many Weetos as possible in 30 seconds.
f. “Weetos Alien Invaders”, which included six different games in which players controlled a character called “Weeto Man”, who was described as having “effortless strength and tastiness!”.
g. “Weetabix Chocolate Breakfast Madness”, in which players selected a character (mouse, cat or dog) and had to bounce as many Weetabix Chocolates as possible into a bowl of milk against the clock.
h. “Choco Catch”, in which players selected a character (mouse, cat or dog) and had to collect Weetabix Chocolates which were falling from the sky into a bowl of milk.
i. “Weetos Leap of Faith”, in which players tried to make a Weeto leap into a bowl of milk.
j. “Find Nigel”, in which a worker in the Weetabix factory was miniaturised and players had to locate him in a series of rooms in the factory.
k. “Catch the Weetos”, in which Weetos appeared randomly and the aim was to click on as many as possible against the clock.
l. “Ready Brek Race to School”, in which players controlled a running character; the aim was to collect Ready Brek packs and avoid obstacles.
m. “Minimizing Madness”, branded by Weetabix Minis, in which Weetabix went along a conveyor belt and the aim was to minimise them with a laser.
n. “Kitchen Assault”, in which players controlled a Weeto through a kitchen assault course to a bowl of milk.
o. “Choc the Oaty Bar”, in which the aim was to throw chocolate over Oaty Bars.
The complainants, Professor Agnes Nairn and the Family and Parenting Institute, challenged whether:
1. the WeetaKid app (ad (a)) exploited the credulity, loyalty, vulnerability or lack of experience of children by making them feel inferior or unpopular for not buying a product, or that they were lacking in courage, duty or loyalty if they either did not buy the product or did not encourage others to buy the product.
2. the WeetaKid app (ad (a)) included a direct exhortation to children to buy an advertised product.
3. the advergames (ads (b) to (o)) on the Weetos and Nickelodeon websites were obviously identifiable as marketing communications.
4. the Weetos games (ads (b), (e), (f), (i), (k) and (n)) on the Weetos and Nickelodeon websites advertised Weetos Bars, which would be classified as a product high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS), and therefore condoned or encouraged poor nutritional habits or an unhealthy lifestyle in children.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1. Weetabix said they had purposefully designed the WeetaKid app so that it could be played without purchasing the product. The QR code on Weetabix packs, which prompted the augmented reality 3D 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.
Weetabix emphasised that the game took place in an imaginary and fantastical world, and they therefore considered that the impact of words and phrases used in the game should be viewed in that context. They said that children who played computer games disassociated what happened in the game from the real world. 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. Weetabix referenced the fictitious, abstract nature of the WeetaKid world, characters and games, and that WeetaKid’s objective in the games was not to collect or eat Weetabix, but to collect a random selection of abstract objects. They considered that children would be highly unlikely to associate WeetaKid’s consumption of the product in the 3D animation with their own consumption of the product. They referenced two previous ASA adjudications relating to advergames in which it was considered that players would be unlikely to associate the actions (such as the consumption of products) of the characters they controlled in games with their own actions in the real world.
Weetabix said children were also very familiar with the ‘energy bar’ mechanic used in many computer games, where the more energy the character had, the better they performed in the game. They said computer games used a range of energy sources, including coins, stars, fruit, and vegetables. They believed it was unlikely that children would interpret the use of such energy sources in computer games as meaning that those items would also improve their abilities in the real world.
Weetabix acknowledged it was possible that messages and actions in the game might impact on children’s food preferences, but said that that in itself did not constitute a breach of the CAP Code. They said the emphasis of the game was for children to have fun, and they did not believe the game could make children feel inferior, unpopular, disloyal, uncourageous or undutiful if they did not purchase or encourage others to purchase Weetabix. They said that WeetaKid had been available since September 2011 and they had never received any complaints from parents or guardians (either directly or through the ASA) that the app had caused children distress.
2. Weetabix pointed out that CAP Code rule 5.4.2 stated that marketing communications should not include direct exhortations to children to purchase products or to persuade their parents or other adults to purchase products for them. They asserted that the game did not include any such direct exhortations. They said the game mentioned Weetabix in order to link it to the augmented reality element of the game which was available on Weetabix packs, but again pointed out that having a Weetabix box was not a prerequisite for playing the game. Weetabix said that if their motivation had been to encourage players to purchase Weetabix they could have built the game in such a way as to require players to scan many different QR codes giving players access to new functionality in the game, thereby encouraging players to purchase many packs of Weetabix. They had not done so, and in fact players did not even have to purchase one pack of Weetabix in order to be able to play the game in full. They emphasised, again, that they had not received any complaints from parents.
3. Weetabix referred to CAP guidance regarding advergames, which stated that, when considering whether advergames conformed to Code rule 2.1, the ASA would likely consider the context in which the advergame was made available, and any references to the product, brand or organisation in or around the game and the target audience. Weetabix said the logos of the relevant Weetabix brands were prominently displayed on both websites, that the games featured their products, and that there were also prominent links to TV ads for the products. They considered that, in the context of how the games were presented on both the Weetos and Nickelodeon websites, it was clear that the games were Weetabix marketing communications.
4. Weetabix understood that the complainants considered that, by featuring Weetos cereal and the Weetos logo, the games were generally advertising the Weetos brand and therefore, by association, were also advertising Weetos Bars. Weetabix disagreed. They emphasised that Weetos Bars were not shown in any of the games; the only Weetos product shown in any of the games was Weetos cereal, which was not an HFSS product. Weetabix said that, even if the ASA considered that the games advertised Weetos Bars by association, they did not believe that would constitute a breach of Code rule 15.11. They noted that CAP guidance stated that the rule did not preclude responsible advertising for any products, including those that should be eaten only in moderation. Weetabix acknowledged that Weetos Bars were an HFSS product, and therefore it was not permitted to advertise the product to children in broadcast media, but noted that the CAP Code, which applied to non-broadcast media including advergames, did not include such a prohibition.
The ASA acknowledged the imaginary, fantastical nature of the games and the WeetaKid ‘world’ as a whole, and noted that neither of the games involved the WeetaKid character consuming or collecting Weetabix, although we noted the 3D animation, shown when the QR code was scanned, involved WeetaKid consuming a bowl of Weetabix. We disagreed with Weetabix’s view that the app remained wholly in the fantastical world of WeetaKid; we considered that the various prompts encouraging WeetaKid to eat, which appeared when players navigated to the games screen when the ‘W’ icon was de-energised, blurred the lines between the fantastical WeetaKid world and the real world. We considered it was not clear enough to children that the prompts such as “I really think you should eat something. How about it?” were directed solely at the WeetaKid character rather than at the player. We considered that was particularly the case because the only way in which players could re-energise the “W” icon and stop the prompts from appearing every time they navigated to the games screen was by taking action in the real world by scanning the QR code on a Weetabix pack, and because the “W” icon de-energised overnight and therefore players were prompted to scan the QR code every day. Furthermore, we were concerned that the language and tone of many of the prompts, such as “I really think you should eat something. How about it?”, “What?! No Weetabix?! Why make things harder for yourself?” 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.
We acknowledged that the app did not require players to purchase Weetabix to play the games and build their ‘world’, and that scanning the QR code did not appear to affect the performance of the WeetaKid character during game-play. However, we were concerned that the app created the opposite impression, because the animation which appeared when first opening the app, and the prompts when navigating to the games screen, included 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. For example, in the opening animation, Nibbles stated “... 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 the prompts included wording such as “No Weetabix! Disaster! Don’t make things harder for yourself!” and “Remember what I told you! A failure to prepare is preparation for failure!”. We noted that when the “W” icon was de-energised, which happened overnight, such prompts appeared every time players navigated to the games screen. We considered it likely that children would understand that scanning the QR code on a Weetabix pack would improve WeetaKid’s performance in the games, and if they had not done so they would miss out on part of the functionality of the app and would not be able to do as well in the game as they otherwise would. We therefore considered it likely that children would ask their parents to purchase Weetabix in order that they could scan the QR code, and we were concerned that the frequency with which the prompts appeared would be likely to prompt children to ask their parents to purchase Weetabix on a frequent basis.
Because the language of the prompts could cause children to understand that they were failing if they did not eat Weetabix, the overall impression created by the app was that players would miss out on parts of its functionality and would not be able to perform as well in the games unless they scanned a WeetaKid QR code, and because they were prompted to do so on a frequent basis, we concluded 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.
On this point, ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 5.2 and 5.2.1 (Credulity and Unfair Pressure).
On this point, we also investigated ad (a) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 5.2.2 (Credulity and Unfair Pressure) but did not find it in breach.
2. Not upheld
We noted that players were prompted, on a daily basis, to scan the QR code on a Weetabix pack, and that some of the messages directly referenced Weetabix or generally suggested eating something. However, we noted that none of the messages made a direct exhortation to children to purchase Weetabix or to exhort them to persuade their parents to purchase Weetabix for them, and that players only ever needed one Weetabix pack to access the augmented reality animation as many times as they wished. We concluded the ad did not breach the Code in this regard.
We investigated ad (a) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 5.4.2 (Direct Exhortation and Parental Authority) and 15.16, 15.16.1 and 15.16.2 (Pressure to Purchase), but did not find it in breach.
3. Not upheld
We considered game (b), which appeared on the Weetos website, separately from games (c) to (o), which appeared on the Nickelodeon website.
With regard to game (b), we noted the front page of the Weetos website, which included links to the game, the leader board, information on the game controls and the TV ad, included a large, prominent logo which stated “Weetos Moustache Combat”. In a footer section beneath the links, grey text in a box stated “Weetabix Food Company is the trading name of Weetabix Limited”, and the Weetos logo, which included the Weetabix name, appeared at the right-hand side. The footer section remained on display at all times. During game-play, a Weeto appeared section by section to signify the player losing energy, and, whilst the game loaded, a Weeto gradually appeared, with the text “Gathering Strength” underneath. We considered that those references to the Weetos brand and the Weetabix company name in combination meant the game was obviously identifiable to children as a marketing communication from Weetabix. We concluded ad (b) did not breach the Code in this regard.
With regard to games (c) to (o), which appeared on the Nickelodeon website, we noted that the games were accessed through a page which included a Nickelodeon-branded header and footer. The header and footer remained on display at all times and allowed users to navigate to other areas of the Nickelodeon website. All the web pages also included a Weetabix-branded header and sidebar. The header included the text “Weetabix World”; that text was significantly larger than the Nickelodeon logo which appeared above it. The header also included text which stated “All cereals from the Weetabix Food Company are made with natural wholegrain goodness”. At the top of the sidebar, a round logo included text which stated “THE WEETABIX FOOD COMPANY”. The logos of the Weetabix products that featured in the games appeared beneath the Weetabix logo. Clicking on those logos brought up screens which included product information, links to TV ads (none of which were for HFSS products), links to the games which featured that brand, and downloads. We considered that, because those screens were accessed through the brand logos and appeared in the context of the header and sidebar, that they contained information about the products and included clearly labelled links to the relevant TV ads, they were obviously identifiable to children as marketing communications.
The main games page included a dashboard with icons for each of the 13 games. The majority of the icons included the logos of the relevant Weetabix brands. The games could be accessed directly through those icons, or through the screens which appeared when users clicked on the brand logos in the sidebar. We noted that all the games featured the advertised products in some way or another; for example, the player controlling a Weeto with arms and legs, or them collecting Weetabix or Weetabix Spoonsize into bowls of milk. We considered the overall context in which the games were displayed meant that the games were obviously identifiable to children as marketing communications from Weetabix.
We concluded ads (c) to (o) did not breach the Code in this regard.
We investigated ads (b) to (o) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 2.1 (Recognition of Marketing Communications) and 3.1 (Misleading advertising), but did not find them in breach.
4. Not upheld
We acknowledged that Weetos Bars were part of the overall Weetos brand but considered that, because the games only referenced the Weetos and Weetos Alien Invaders cereals and did not feature Weetos Bars, the games did not advertise Weetos Bars by association. However, we noted that the Weetos screen on the Nickelodeon website, which was accessed by clicking on the Weetos logo in the sidebar, included a “PRODUCTS” link, which brought up information about Weetos products next to images of a Weetos and a Weetos Alien Invaders pack. The final paragraph of the product information stated “ALSO, HAVE YOU TRIED THE SOFT AND CHEWY WEETOS BAR. IT’S A GREAT ON-THE-GO TREAT”. We therefore noted that Weetabix’s advertising on the Nickelodeon website did include a reference to Weetos Bars although none of the games featured the Bars. We noted that Code rule 15.11 stated that “Marketing communications must not condone or encourage poor nutritional habits or an unhealthy lifestyle in children”, and that the CAP Code did not prohibit advertising HFSS products to children. We considered the reference to Weetos Bars on the Nickelodeon website clearly referred to the product as a “treat” and concluded it could not be considered to condone or encourage poor nutritional habits or an unhealthy lifestyle in children.
We investigated ads (b), (e), (f), (i), (k) and (n) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 15.11 (Diet and Lifestyle), but did not find them in breach.
No further action necessary with regard to ads (b) to (o). Ad (a) must not appear again in its current form. 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.