The app, which launched in 2011, allowed users to control brand character Weetakid alongside his sidekick Nibbles, voiced by Brian Blessed. Players were encouraged to feed their character by scanning a QR code on the back of Weetabix packs as well as by collecting in-game items.
The language used by Nibbles throughout the game was challenged by two complainants, including charity the Family and Parenting Institute, who argued it made children feel “inferior or unpopular” and were “lacking in courage” for not buying products.
Phrases spoken to players 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 ad and said it aimed to promote the importance of a good diet to children. It acknowledged that in-game messages might have an impact on children’s food preferences but said it had never received any complaints from parents or guardians since it launched two years ago.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said it was not “clear enough” that the in-game 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.
Three additional complaints including concerns about the game featuring a direct call to action to children to buy Weetabix were not upheld.
The Weetakid game is not the first time the cereal maker has come under fire over how it advertises to children. In 2011, a campaign that saw the company sponsor 15 young children to wear branded clothing on their most-active days was criticised by some quarters of the industry. Weetabix has since agreed not to use child ambassadors following the release of new guidelines from the Advertising Association.