WASHINGTON (AP) — A number of consumer organizations say PepsiCo Inc. is misleading teenagers with its online marketing programs and is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.
The complaint, filed with regulators on Wednesday, focuses on a series of online marketing campaigns for Doritos that target teens but are not labeled as advertisements.
The Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog and The Praxis Project say PepsiCo, which makes Doritos under its Frito-Lay business, uses a variety of "stealth interactive marketing and data collection techniques" to sell its products.
The complaint calls out the company's online game "Hotel 626" and "Doritos Rihanna Late Night" an entertainment site linked to chip purchases.
By disguising those marketing efforts as videogames, concerts and other experiences, teenagers may not recognize the content as advertising, according to the groups. They also say the company claimed to protect teen privacy, while collecting personal information and used viral marketing techniques that violated FTC guidelines.
"PepsiCo's covert ad campaigns take advantages of teens' vulnerabilities and encourage them to buy and consume a product that is harmful to their health," Angela Campbell, counsel for the Center for Digital Democracy said in a statement.
A spokesperson for Frito-Lay was not immediately available to comment.
The complaint comes as government officials are fine-tuning guidelines for marketing junk food to children. Earlier this month, government agencies involved in the planning indicated they may be backing off tougher guidelines. That includes narrowing the age group affected by the rules to 2 to 11, rather than up to 17 as initially planned.
Federal officials are hoping to put new guidelines in place to discourage children's unhealthy eating habits, considered one of the drivers of the nation's obesity epidemic.