CARU Recommends Mattel Modify Barbie Sparkle Blast App to Better Disclose In-App Advertising; Company Does So

New York, NY –  Sept. 12, 2017  – The Children’s Advertising Review Unit has recommended that Mattel, Inc., modify its Barbie Sparkle Blast mobile application to better disclose to a child audience the company’s in-app advertising. Mattel has done so.

CARU, an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation, monitors advertising directed to children in all media and across all platforms.

The Barbie Sparkle Blast mobile application came to CARU’s attention through CARU’s routine monitoring practices.

As CARU noted in its decision, the app’s description in the Apple App store states that Barbie Sparkle Blast is suitable for children and adults. The app features simple games for players, in which they match like-toned jewels. When players successfully complete the game, they unlock new game features and are rewarded with virtual currency in the form of gems. Players can use their gems to purchase a variety of virtual clothing to dress their Barbie avatar, change Barbie’s outfit depending on what she has in her virtual closet and purchase virtual gems with real money through in-app purchases.

Advertisements in the form of short videos run during game play when players transfer from one game level to the next. Once an ad begins, it cannot be stopped and users cannot exit the screen. Players can also collect additional gems by choosing to watch sponsored videos. In the top right corner of the home screen, there is a glowing icon that says “Watch Advert. Free Gems.” When a user chooses this option, a screen appears which says “Don’t miss out! Watch a video and receive a reward! 1 Gem!” If the user chooses this option, she is rewarded with one gem for each video she watches. The least expensive item in the clothing “store” costs 45 gems.

Upon initial review, CARU questioned whether the app clearly and understandably disclosed, as required by the Self-Regulatory Program for Children’s Advertising, that the videos are advertisements.

In response to CARU’s inquiry, Mattel said that it has taken measures to assure that child-directed advertising is identifiable as such in instances where it may not otherwise be clear to a child and that it would add a disclosure to all advertising present within the app.

Mattel said that it previously believed that third-party ad-serving companies would include an advertising designation in ads served to children; however, since that process did not prove to be reliable, the company added “Watch a video Ad and receive a reward!” on a pop-up screen within the app before a child-directed commercial video is offered. As a further reminder, the button a child clicks to watch the video now reads “Watch Ad Now” instead of simply “Watch Now.”

Mattel also explained that the term “advert” is commonly used internationally to indicate that the content contains an advertisement. However, the company said, it appreciates the advantages of consistent industry terminology and has substituted the word “ad” instead. The company, Mattel said, supports the CARU process.