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January 30, 2006

Companies Go High-Tech To Market Junk Food To Kids - Report

Personal Tech Pipeline

Food companies are using consumer technology and the Internet to promote unhealthy foods to children, according to a report published today.

The study, conducted by a consumer rights organization based in the UK called "Which?," found that companies are using a wide variety of marketing techniques to bypass parents and speak directly to children with sophisticated, high-tech marketing techniques aimed narrowly at children and teens of specific ages.

A majority of these ads promote foods that are excessively high in fat, sugar and salt.

One method, used by Nestle, Coca-Cola and Cadbury, involves printing on food packaging details of competitions, which are entered when the user sends an SMS message with a printed code. Once the SMS is sent, the companies were able to retain the senders SMS address for future direct marketing.

Similarly, competitions to win prizes are used to lure children to Websites where they give contact information, such as an e-mail address, to receive future promotions.

The organization also reported that both Coca-Cola and Pepsi are using free music downloads to market their products to children and teens.

Another example is a promotional tie-in between the Neopets Website and Pepsi, a promotional program also promoted by McDonald's in its Happy Meals. Children are invited to the Neopets site to play games. In one game, called "Pepsi World," the player is challenged to serve thirsty customers with "delicious Pepsi" to keep them happy.

The study also cited the existence of a McDonald's kiosk in the popular massively multiplayer game, The Sims.

Other companies offer free "screen savers," which function as PC-based ads that are displayed whenever the child's computer is idle.

A more straightforward method of marketing toward children happens with Websites created around brands. For example, Starburst has created a Website feature pop gossip and contests aimed at children that mentions the company's candy frequently.

Other companies are using "HyperTag" technology, which involves posters in public spaces that wirelessly beam marketing messages such as promotions, competitions, screensavers and ringtones to the cell phones of anyone who chooses to receive them.

Marketing techniques including chatbots (computers that "chat" via instant messaging programs), blogs, dedicated instant messaging applications and others.

The sophistication of the techniques is particularly alarming, according to the report, because of the very high and growing rates of obesity and diabetes among children.

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