Posts Tagged ‘ Apps ’

Having a McPlay™ with the ASA

Last week, on the Drum.

In general, overtly marketing to kids is pretty hard these days. Given media consumption habits it’s considerably more permission based than advertising standards would lead you to believe. Appreciating that my own household may not be entirely typical, it is pretty representative of the multi screen household of today or the day after.

We don’t watch any of what was traditionally called TV, i.e. we don’t watch linear programming, other than the news and CBeebies, occassionally. The kids tend to either fight over the iPad or play on a console, depending on who wins.  As a result they see very little direct TV advertising. When they go round friends houses and are exposed to ‘channels’, they have actually asked ‘why did the film stop?’

However both the iPad and  Xbox are commercial wonderlands. Just the other day there was a massive ad for some add-ons for Minecraft on the Xbox which caused no end of grief as I had to explain to the kids that I wasn’t paying three quid for an avatar TYVM. I won that argument but still ended up buying all the avatar packs on Scribblenauts on the iPad.

There has been a goodly amount of coverage about the dangers of micropayment in games so I’m not going to talk about that particularly, it factors in when looking at how traditional ‘kid friendly’ brands compete for the hearts and minds for our progeny in the non-linear, specifically App world.

What’s the story

Whilst not available in the UK (possibly ever), McDonald’s in the US have just launched their first app aimed directly at kids, called ‘McPlay’. It currently consists of one game which is apparently about healthy eating – haven’t played it myself yet. Interestingly it has on the title screen ‘This. Is Advertising!’ – which when you channel it through Leonidas from the 300 becomes quite amusing! At least it’s honest.

It’s a bit of a departure for them as most of the other McDonalds apps out there are glorified store-locators with the odd delivery service and in-store promotions. In fact a quick survey of the competitors paints a similar picture – store locators, menus, at home delivery. In fact I couldn’t find any other examples of fast food brands, such as Burger King and KFC, doing anything that is remotely targeted at kids. That’s what makes McPlay an interesting pivot point. Advergames were a mainstay of the interweb but there seems to be a bit of hesitancy in Appland,  in this category anyway.

So why not here? I thought be might be interesting to look at the ASA guidelines to see if they covered off this kind of activity. Yep, I’m that sad.

First off – do Apps even fall under the ASA?

The Code Applies to: “advertisements in non-broadcast electronic media, including but not limited to: online advertisements in paid-for space (including banner or pop-up advertisements and online video advertisements); paid-for search listings; preferential listings on price comparison sites; viral advertisements (see III l); in-game advertisements; commercial classified advertisements; advergames that feature in display advertisements; advertisements transmitted by Bluetooth; advertisements distributed through web widgets and online sales promotions and prize promotions.”

Well it doesn’t say ‘App’s’ outright I would say that they would be covered under either in-game advertisements or advergames. Philosophically of course one could argue that consumption of any franchise is in fact advertising but perhaps we best not go there.

“Marketers must not knowingly collect from children under 12 personal information about those children for marketing purposes without first obtaining the consent of the child’s parent or guardian.”

OK, so there’s a question – what data is actually being collected from these apps? Frankly unless you are actually registering your child directly  it would probably fall under anonymous or at worst the bill payer. However with so many apps these days asking to ‘upload your contacts’ who knows?

 “Marketers must not knowingly collect personal information about other people from children under 16 unless that information is the minimum required to make a recommendation for a product, is not used for a significantly different purpose from that originally consented to, and the marketer can demonstrate that the collection of that information was suitable for the age group targeted.”

If I read this right that could probably apply to all social networks. For example, Facebook’s age limit is 13 but given that they know the social graph of all under-16 year olds and use it to provide relevant advertising, does that count?

“Data about third parties collected from children must not be kept for longer than  necessary.”

Well hmmm, what does no ‘longer than necessary’ mean? For that matter, since we don’t know what data has been collected anyway, how can we check? Whilst I’m not convinced by current legislative proposals, in terms of best practice I suspect  all apps should allow you to review and/or delete capture info. No?

“Marketing communications addressed to, targeted directly at or featuring children must not exploit their credulity, loyalty, vulnerability or lack of experience.”

Actually that whole statement makes me shudder when I think of all the stuff my kids have on their iPad. The entire multi-billion ‘free-to-play’ world is preys on exactly that.

 “Children must not be made to feel inferior or unpopular for not buying the advertised product.”

Can’t get through a level? Haven’t unlocked Zorg the Mankiness? Getting frustrated? Get on the High Score Chart by buying some of our tokens!?

“Adult permission must be obtained before children are committed to buying.”

Apple require you to enter your password for in-app purchases and other related app purchases. However as of IOS 6 they changed it so that if the App is free, it doesn’t require a password. Personally I think  it’s the parents responsibility to know what their kids are doing, however even with parental controls I can’t stop the kids downloading a free-to-play honeypot.

“Must not include a direct exhortation to children to buy an advertised product or persuade their parents or other adults to buy an advertised product for them.”

Now this is tricky. As mentioned before – my kids bring me the iPad all the time and say ‘I want that’. Whose fault is that?

I was quite surprised at how well thought out most of their code is or was anyway, it’s just a bit unenforceable currently really and needs refreshed with a few more practical suggestions. If these guidelines were actually being applied to apps, then the app store might be significantly different.

The Grilling Effect

Concern over Childrens safety in Appland and frankly all digital channels increasingly in focus. Be it economically or morally, the eyes of the world are looking through the eyes of the child now. In the marketing world it’s really hard not to mix-up brands with In-App purchases; be it overt or covert they are still encouraging you to buy something.

Food for thought?

A simple-ish resolution may be in the content rating system. If ‘permission must be obtained’ in the advertising or in-app space before buying anything then frankly the apps themselves should be rated at the age of consent i.e. 12+, 16+, however counter intuitive that may seem. While Apple has included the line ‘Contains in-app purchases’, that doesn’t say very much compared to varying scales within. If my kid downloads ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ for free for the iPhone and it’s rated  3+, and then they are accosted with cross-selling ads for a million other books then that is a problem. One which goes away when the rating is 16+ or the parental controls are set higher.

The only real tip I have to offer here is keep an eye on what’s going on with the ASA and recently announced Digital Consumer Rights Bill. Both of which will have an impact on how and if your brand / product has potential negative repercussions.

Again, I do firmly believe it’s the parent’s responsibility to police and am not very keen on ill-conceived legislation, however, more than guns, porn, drugs or manga (as the case may be)  or any of the other things which give you an adult rating, the idea of coming home to find them ‘McPlay’ing on the iPad without my permission, keeps me awake at night.

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Adobe Flash, an identity crisis?

See, this is what you get when you have too much time on your hands 😉

I had the honour of attending an absolutely fantastic dinner last week hosted by Robin from Adobe to get feedback on how Flash is doing and how it can be best used by UK digital agencies. Attending were a bunch of well known industry miscreants from Lightmaker, Kerb, Hi-Res, Lbi, Underwired, Us two & Iris Digital plus my unemployed self.

It was a great opportunity to think and discuss the role of Flash in 2010 and I thought I’d share!

Disclosure: 1) I use a Mac and 2) I installed click2flash some time ago and my laptop battery has thanked me for it.

There has been much discussion about Flash in recent weeks around Apple & Adobe’s relationship – I’m not terribly interested in that, to be honest it’s more about dollars and cents than providing a better user experience, so I’m not going to add to the muck slinging.

As I see it and what I find interesting is that Flash is entering a stage of it’s development that isn’t dissimilar to where Director was a decade ago.

Whilst the technology is mature and well adopted it’s not clear exactly what its purpose is anymore. Lets think about what it currently is used for:

In Browser

Banners / Overlays – Face it, folk hate overlays and their effectiveness is plummeting plus ad blocking is now common place so that’s not a future.

Flash Sites – It’s been a very very long time since a client turned round to me and requested a big bloated multimedia experience – which is where Flash excelled. In fact in the last year I’ve had more clients express a preference as say that they didn’t want flash on the site which tells you something.

Flash Navigation – Accessibility and common sense did away with that, not going to miss it.

Flash Components on Sites – yep, they are everywhere but the vast majority of them (at least the sites I look at) are simply glorified news tickers which could be quickly and easily implemented is HTML these days

Flash Video – There were no alternatives, but now there are just look at Vimeo & youtube. Realistically video playback should be have been browser native for the last few years anyway.

Games – Ah – well here we go – there isn’t anything (with the exception of Silverlight) that allows you to make (certain types of) games well in browser – definitely scope there if you are into that kind of thing. Casual & Social gaming is peaking right now and Flash is a great tool for these kinds of things.

On Mobile (in Browser)

See above. The launch of 10.1 is nice if you want that ‘rich’ mobile experience but I’m happy with the stripped down gimme-the-fact’s and get rid of the bling efficiency that’s required when wandering down the street.

On Mobile (Applications)

Definitely something in this, whether it’s “Appstore” or the newly announced multi-provider “NotAppStoreHonest” there is no getting away from the fact that having a solid and familiar development environment to develop mobile applications is extremely compelling. I’m both excited and scared to see what the mobile output from CS5 is likely to be. Unfortunately, and this has absolutely nothing to do with Flash, the problem with Apps in general is the rapid commoditisation of the whole sector and general inability to find good ones.

Desktop Applications

As with mobile apps, Air apparently (not a developer) allows reasonably quick and painless cross platform development – at least for certain types of Apps.

Console (Browser)

The implementation of flash at the moment on all three platforms is a few steps behind the current ones I’m sure that’ll be addressed at some point but if you look back at the first point, all the same things apply plus you’ve got the 10 foot view to consider, not least it’s a pain in the arse navigating a flash site (or any sites for the most part) on a console

Console (Games)

Not applicable. Eh? So you can’t just simply port your lovely little casual game to Wiiware, XBLA or PSN? Missed opportunity or what – casual gaming is all the rage right now, surely you would want to continue the experience from playing at work to playing at home?

Anyway the point I’m trying to make is that Flash has reached a cross roads, it’s been all things to all people for a good decade. I have this feeling that Adobe should be focusing on where the strengths of the platform lie and what contexts are most appropriate. Is it a browser plugin or an app development environment?

Simply put what is Flash for these days?

Hence the identity crisis: I’m sure there are a few of you out there who have an opinion, bring it 😉

j