Food Companies Use Web Games to Lure Kids

Mira and Aaron Dalal enjoy playing games online. But the places they're finding games may surprise you -- on food company Web sites.

The games range from the Great Cocoa Chase to McNugget Moonbounce to the Hershey's Syrup Shoot. As the children play the games, right in front, big and bold, is the product the company is trying to sell.

It's not just games and contests, though. Kids who vist the Web sites are encouraged to watch product cartoons -- or e-mail friends and invite them to visit the sites, too.

Authors of a new study said this could be a more powerful marketing tool than television.

"It can involve the child for longer, it's fun for the kids, the child is interacting with the brand on a one-on-one basis for a longer period of time," said Vicki Rideout at the Kaiser Family Foundation

On television there are regulations on marketing to kids -- a limit on the amount of ad time on a children's show, for example. But online, it's wide open..

"The Wild West of food advertising to children," Rideout said. "There are pretty much no rules out there."

Kraft, whose Postopia site has attracted more than a million kids since April, said the industry can regulate itself.

"We think it is possible to be a responsible marketer and to provide some fun online for kids," Kraft Foods vice president Nancy Daigler said.

But some parents say that's not good enough.

"Who needs one more place, one more front that you have to compete with to tell your kid, 'No, that's, you know, I really didn't want you to have Lucky Charms for breakfast today,'" said Susan Wertheim, Mira and Aaron's mother.

It's only likely to get worse as the number of company Web sites offering games increase and more kids discover them.