Last week, Niantic, the company behind the wildly popular Pokémon Go app, unveiled its first sponsored partnership with McDonald’s in Japan, turning the country’s fast food restaurants into PokéStops where players can purchase items for their characters. While there currently aren’t any sponsored stops stateside, one group is trying to get ahead of the Poké-ball, urging the game maker not to deliver personalized ads to kids based on PokéStops and gyms at retail locations.
The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood launched a petition on Monday, asking Niantic to refrain from nudging preteens to visit sponsored PokéStops and Pokemon Gyms, or provide them with targeted advertisements based on their location while playing the game.
“No child should be lured to McDonald’s or any other sponsor’s establishment while playing Pokemon GO,” Josh Golin, Executive Director of CCFC, said in a statement. “If Niantic wants to cash in on the game’s enormous popularity by herding players to its sponsors’ locations, it should exclude children from this type of marketing.”
For now, Niantic does not have any sponsored gyms or PokéStops in the U.S., but CCFC sees those types of partnerships as imminent.
“We’re fairly certain it’s the business model going forward and will be here soon,” Golin tells Consumerist. “Niantic has been fairly tight-lipped about their exact plans, but they don’t deny that it’s going to be the business model.”
CCFC suggests that if sponsorships like that in Japan occur in the U.S., Niantic would effectively be pointing kids in the direction of fast food restaurants that just happen to be selling Happy Meals with Pokémon Go toys included.
“It’s fundamentally unfair to a child who developmentally doesn’t understand they are being marketed to make visiting a sponsor be part of the game,” Golin tells Consumerist. “Advergames are bad enough where children are involved – having kids play with brands and products. Now we are seeing an escalation where the game is being used to drive people to a real world sponsored location. We believe children should be excluded from this type of advertising.”