Junk Food Firms Pay Children To Secretly
Push Products Among Their Friends
Children in the U.K. are being paid up to 25 pounds a week to promote
sugary soft drinks and other products through social networking
sites and playground chat.
Products including Fanta and Cheestrings are at the centre of
stealth marketing campaigns.
Firms are turning to the controversial tactics after moves to
crack down on TV advertising of unhealthy products.
The Dubit website, set up by a British entrepreneur, recruits
thousands of children from seven upwards to take part in surveys
that are used by big business to shape products and policy.
Now it is trying to get the youngsters to promote brands to their
friends in return for money-off vouchers, which can be worth £25
a week, and free samples.
Children and teens are recruited as 'brand ambassadors' by the
site. This involves performing a range of tasks including putting
up flyers, posting on message boards and social networks such
as Facebook and Bebo and hosting parties for friends.
The website boasts: 'Dubit believes you are the best people to
promote brands, products and services - not celebrity-endorsed
television ads! Dubit Insider lets young people aged 7 - 24 do
exactly this by actively shaping the way campaigns are run.
'By becoming part of the UK's largest youth panel you will work
with some of the UK's top brands.'
The website says members can 'earn yourself a little cash, as
well as a few freebies along the way'.
It even suggests that youngsters who sign up can use their membership
to enhance their CV or university application forms.
The company insists there are safeguards to prevent exploitation.
Anyone under 16 has to get their parents' permission, which is
checked by a member of the Dubit team.
Children under 12 are urged not to promote products or brands
online - except to friends.
Parents may well feel it is safe to support Dubit's activities,
given that it has the endorsement of the Government's Food Standards
Just last week, the FSA said it would be using the company's
access to youngsters to pass on messages about the importance
of a good diet.
This followed disturbing research showing that many teen girls
and boys are being starved of key nutrients. They were consuming
too much junk, such as sugary soft drinks and snack foods, and
more than a third were overweight.
Among the brands using Dubit to promote their products to youngsters
are Fanta, which is part of Coca-Cola, and Cheestrings, which
have been criticised for being relatively high in saturated fat
Sprite, Dr Pepper and a Barbie-themed MP3 player are also part
of the promotional push.
Record labels are using the same marketing technique.
The marketing agency in4merz.com uses a network of 10,000 members,
aged 11-21, to promote pop artists including Lady Gaga, Jonas
Brothers, Alexandra Burke, Sugababes and Pixie Lott on behalf
of record labels.
The company claims to be signing up as many as 100 children a
day. Members are rewarded with points for their promotional activities,
which can be exchanged for music-related gifts.
Ed Mayo, co-author of Consumer Kids, a book on marketing to children,
is highly critical of the way big business is targeting youngsters
through the internet.
He said: 'About 85 per cent of children's favourite websites
collect some sort of personal information,
'Companies are not just stalking kids online, they are recruiting
them to fight in the battle for brand domination and market share.
'Close on half a million young people in the UK alone have been
enlisted by big youth brands, and that's the figure from just
one recruitment agency.
'Kids are regularly signed up through the internet to be "insiders",
"informers" and "lifestyle representatives"
for big corporations.'
A spokesman for Coca-Cola said brand ambassadors recruited through
Dubit were over 16 and were told to make it clear they were being
paid to promote the company's brands.
A spokesman for Kerry Foods said its campaign to promote Cheestrings
was a trial.
Dubit was founded by Adam Hildreth, 24, who came up with the
idea at the age of 14 and left school at 16 to run it. He is said
to be worth £12million.
The firm said of his recruits: 'They must make people aware they
are involved in a project if talking about a product or brand.
Anyone under the age of 16 must have explicit verbal parental
consent to take part.'
Reference Sources 231
February 15, 2010