The site featured a virtual area called “Swizzels Town” that contained games, photographs and videos related to its confectionery products, as well as a “Scooby Doo” section, which featured information on branded sweets of the same name.
The Children’s Food Campaign, which is coordinated by Sustain and funded by the British Heart Foundation, complained to the advertising regulator, arguing that the child-friendly aspects of Swizzels Town were designed to appeal to children, who would become more likely to eat the products more frequently and in greater amounts as they interacted with the site.
Swizzels Matlow responded by saying the website and Swizzels Town section were not targeted at children, but instead a family audience and adults who like playing online games.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the majority of the website did not encourage consumption of sweets, but did draw on one game in particular: Cola Capers, which appeared in the cola bottle sweets section of Swizzels Town.
The game encouraged users to collect almost one hundred cola bottles in different rooms in a factory without being caught by “angry parents”, which would make them lose a life.
The ASA concluded that the Cola Capers game irresponsibly encouraged poor nutritional habits and an unhealthy lifestyle in children because it condoned eating a large number of sweets whilst hiding the fact from their parents. The ad watchdog ruled that this part of the website must be amended or withdrawn.
Separately The Children’s Food Campaign also complained that the website was “irresponsible” because it used the licensed character Scooby Doo to promote sweets to children.
The Scooby Doo section also included online games and puzzles. The ASA found them not to be “particularly difficult or sophisticated” and considered them to be targeted at primary school-aged children.
The advertising code states that food advertisements – except those for fresh fruit and vegetables – that are targeted directly at pre-school or primary school children must not include licensed characters or celebrities popular with children.
The ASA ruled that the website breached the code and that the section must be amended or withdrawn.