UK cereal maker Weetabix has had its WeetaKid mobile app banned for making children feel “inferior” if they did not eat the company’s products.
The app fell foul of the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority, which ruled it “exploited” the “vulnerability” of children.
The app, which launched in 2011 and contains two games, can be accessed via the company’s homepage. Through the games, players controlled the WeetaKid character to collect items to populate “WeetaKid’s world”.
Players are then encouraged to feed their character by scanning a QR code on the back of Weetabix packs as well as by collecting in-game items.
Complainants, including charity the Family and Parenting Institute, argued the app made children feel “inferior or unpopular” and were “lacking in courage” for not buying Weetabix products.
Phrases spoken to players in the game included: “No Weetabix! Disaster! Don’t make things harder for yourself” and “Remember what I told you! A failure to prepare is preparation for failure.”
Weetabix defended the app and emphasised the game took place in “an imaginary and fantastical world”. It said the impact of words and phrases used in the game should be viewed in that context.
It added children who played computer games disassociated what happened in the game from the real world.
The ASA, however, said it was not “clear enough” that the prompts were directed at the Weetakid character and not the player, concluding the app exploited children’s “credulity and vulnerability and was likely to make them feel inferior”.
It added: “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’re concerned that the frequency with which the promotes appeared would be likely to prompt children to ask their parents to purchase Weetabix on a frequent basis.”
The watchdog ruled the game must not be produced again in its current form.
A spokesperson for Weetabix would not comment further on the ban.