Advergames are typically electronic games that are used to advertise a product, brand or an organisation. They are accessible on social media sites, companies’ own websites and as downloadable content or apps on mobile devices.
For the avoidance of doubt, advergames in paid-for space online are covered by the relevant rules of the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the CAP Code). Similarly, advergames that are made available on the advertiser’s own website, as downloadable apps or in social media under the advertiser’s control and that are directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services, opportunities and gifts must also comply with the CAP Code.
To date, the ASA has received very few complaints about advergames. Those it has received concern the potential appeal to children and the perceived harm that that might have. The CAP Code has an overarching principle that marketers should take care when addressing children in marketing and should bear in mind that children’s understanding of, and reaction to marketing communications will be affected by their age, experience and the context in which the message is delivered.
The CAP Code also requires that ads are obviously identifiable as such (Rule 2.1). In determining whether advergames conform to this rule, the ASA will likely consider the context in which the advergame is made available, any references to the product, brand or organisation in or around the game and the target audience.
In 2008, the ASA investigated a screenshot of a football game on Mousebreaker, a free games website. When players clicked on the link to play, they were re-directed to the Carling lager website; specifically to a football themed advergame featuring Carling branding. After investigation, the ASA understood that Carling’s parent company, Coors, had paid for the link. It concluded that the screenshot on Mousebreaker was effectively a paid-for ad and, therefore, the advertiser should have ensured it was identifiable as such. Being, in effect, an ad for an alcohol brand, the ASA asked the advertiser to confirm that less than 25% of the Mousebreaker audience was under 18 (as required by Rule 18.15). The evidence did not satisfy the ASA that this was the case and it therefore concluded that the ad had been inappropriately targeted through the advertiser’s selection of media.
In 2012 the ASA ruled on a Krave cereal advergame made available to Facebook users who had, through their Facebook profile information, confirmed themselves to be aged 16 or over. The advergame featured Krave branding and the character, the Krave Krusader, which players controlled for the purpose of collecting chocolate and, by doing so, scoring points. The complainant considered the advergame encouraged poor nutritional habits and an unhealthy lifestyle in children (Rule 15.11). Because it understood that through the selection of media the advergame was targeted at Facebook users over the age of 16, the ASA rejected the complaint (Kellogg Marketing and Sales Company (UK) Ltd, 15 February 2012).
That same year, the ASA ruled on a Chewits advergame, made available on the Chewits website, which contained images of an animated dinosaur, Chewie, locating sweets hidden in British landmarks. The complainant believed the game gave a misleadingly impression of the nutritional or health benefit of the product as a whole by implying that eating fruit-flavoured confectionary was equivalent to eating fruit (Rule 15.17). The ASA disagreed. It considered that adults and children who were old enough to navigate to the website would not infer from the game in general or the images of fruits in particular that Chewits had an intrinsic nutritional or health benefit. The ASA considered that the images of fruits merely represented the flavours of the Chewits (Leaf Italia SRL t/a Leaf Confectionery, 14 March 2012).
Advergames offer businesses innovative and potentially exciting means to market their brands, products or services. As with all other marketing communications covered by the CAP Code, they should do so responsibly, particularly with regard to their target audience and in accordance with the rules!