By all accounts, American kids are way too fat, and parents are getting a good scolding for feeding their kids junk food. But now critics are blaming something else as well.
It's called "immersive advertising." You see, the makers of fattening foods are paying to slip their brand names into cartoons and video games as never before.
In animated stories, children's characters not only run around with superheroes and sorcerers and fairy princesses. They also eat sugary cereals, creamy soups, and sticky candy.
Not make-believe products. Real ones, such as Honey-Nut Cheerios and M&M candy bits. Kids see these products and buy them. Or more often, they beg their parents to - which is exactly why advertisers pay to "immerse" their product names in the cartoons. Lots of parents also watch these shows alongside their kids, and they get just as hooked on the stories—and perhaps the products.
The hottest immersive-advertising partners are "Neopets." These are cute little characters who live in what's called a "virtual pet community" on the Internet. More than 60 million kids pretend to "own" these pets as they play Neopet games.
When Neopets such as Aisha and Bori and Kougra get hungry, they gobble down McDonald's French fries. And in one promotional campaign, McDonald's put little plush Neopet toys in its very real kids' meals of hamburgers and soft drinks and French fries.
All this has health advocates screaming. While cuddly cartoon creatures are plumping up corporate profits, they say, they're hooking American kids on junk food and sending them down the seductive road to obesity.