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Advertisers Target Toddler Demographics

American kids are way too fat, and parents are getting a good scolding for feeding their kids junk food. But now critics are blaming something else as well. It's called immersive advertising. You see, the makers of fattening foods are slipping their brand names into cartoons and video games. In the animated stories, children's characters not only run around with superheroes and sorcerers and fairy princesses. They also eat sugary cereals, creamy soups, and sticky candy. Not make-believe products. Real ones, like Honey-Nut Cheerios and M&M candy bits. Kids see these products and buy them, or beg their parents to -- which is exactly why advertisers pay to immerse their product names in the cartoons.

The hottest immersive-advertising partners are Neopets. These are cute little virtual pets on the Internet, whom sixty million kids pretend to own as they play 140 different Neopet games. When Neopets like Aisha and Bori and Kougra get hungry, they gobble down McDonald's French fries. In turn, McDonald's put little plush Neopet toys in its very real kids' meals of hamburgers and soft drinks and French fries.

All this has health advocates screaming. While cuddly cartoon creatures are plumping up corporate profits, they say, they're hooking American kids on junk food and sending them down the seductive road to obesity.