New York, NY – June 27, 2013 – The Children’s Advertising Review Unit has recommended that Toy Box Apps, LLC, modify advertising for the company’s “Mall Girl” app to avoid undue sales pressure. The app warns child users that a virtual pet will be taken to the pound if child doesn’t purchase virtual food. In most cases, the apps’ virtual currency must be purchased with real money.
CARU is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
Advertising for “Mall Girl” came to the attention of CARU through CARU’s ongoing monitoring of advertising directed to children.
The Mall Girl App can be downloaded from the iTunes.com website for free under the category “games and kids.” The game, rated 4 and up, allows users to shop for clothing items at a virtual mall and dress their avatar.
Players can also purchase a pet with virtual currency and pet food and toys. During a child’s play, clicking on the icon reveals the child’s pet, behind a universal “no” sign – a red circle with a backslash – and the legend “SPCA.”
When the player clicks on sign, the following message appears:
“Your pet is going to be taken away by the SPCA for animal neglect! Pay a fine of 6 Cash to keep your pet.”
If the player clicks yes, and the player does not have any virtual currency, a message pops up which states,
“You don’t have enough Cash to purchase this!”
A player can click a “cancel” button or “get more!” button. If the player clicks the get more button, she is brought to the virtual ATM where she can purchase virtual “mall cash” with real money. The lowest amount a player can purchase is 18 dollars in “mall cash” for $1.99 or 1125 dollars for $99.
To purchase virtual cash a player must make an in-app purchase requiring an Apple ID password and a valid credit card or other method of payment.
Another method of earning virtual cash is to get a virtual job at the “mall.” However, if a player tries to work at a job (i.e. pushing the work button) a message pops up that states, “Grab a snack from the Food Court to refill your Energy?”
A player must spend virtual money to buy a virtual snack thereby diminishing any virtual dollars she may have already acquired “working” the job. If a player chooses the least expensive snack (an ice cream sundae for $1) the game will require the player to purchase a more expensive snack before returning to the virtual job. If a player does not have enough virtual money to purchase a snack, then she must purchase currency with real money or forfeit her pet.
CARU was concerned that Mall Girl App creates a sense of urgency to purchase points by telling children that if they do not do so they will lose their virtual pet to the SPCA due to neglect.
In response to CARU’s inquiry, Toy Box said it would discontinue use of the text identified by CARU and change the image connected with that text.
To further ensure that the pet feature does not create unwarranted sales pressure, the company also agreed to remove additional messaging that stated “Your pet is feeling neglected! Your pet’s Love Level has dropped.”