How food firms tar­get chil­dren

Taranaki Daily News - - Food - EWAN SAR­GENT

New re­search into how food com­pa­nies use so­cial me­dia to pro­mote food in New Zealand re­veals much of that pro­mo­tion in­cludes un­healthy food.

The Uni­ver­sity of Auck­land study looked at 762 Face­book posts by 45 pack­aged food, bev­er­age and fast food com­pa­nies over two months and the YouTube chan­nels of 15 com­pa­nies over two years, which posted about 300 videos.

Two-thirds of all posts fea­tured un­healthy foods - foods high in sat­u­rated fat, salt or sugar.

The posts were made in

2015-2016.

These foods are banned from be­ing ad­ver­tised to chil­dren (un­der 14) by a new Ad­ver­tis­ing Stan­dards Au­thor­ity code which came into force on Oc­to­ber 2017.

While the posts stud­ied were made be­fore this date, the re­search re­vealed how im­por­tant so­cial me­dia is to food mar­ket­ing in New Zealand.

And the re­searchers point out that the code guide­lines are only self-reg­u­lated by the com­pa­nies.

The study said the most pop­u­lar Face­book page among the pack­aged food brands was Whit­taker’s Choco­late Lovers, how­ever the page with the high­est po­ten­tial reach among 13-18 year olds was Chupa Chups.

Among fast food com­pa­nies, the most pop­u­lar page and the page with the high­est po­ten­tial reach among 13- to 18-year-olds was McDon­ald’s.

Coca-Cola was the most pop­u­lar Face­book page in the drinks cat­e­gory and it had the high­est po­ten­tial reach among 13- to

18-year-olds.

Ac­tiv­i­ties for con­sumers in­cluded games, recipe ideas, vot­ing, com­ment­ing, tag­ging friends, lik­ing and shar­ing posts, fol­low­ing the brand on other me­dia forms (Snapchat, In­sta­gram, Twit­ter), arts and crafts, reg­is­ter­ing for an event and down­load­ing apps.

Pro­mo­tional strate­gies in­cluded car­toons/com­pany-owned char­ac­ters, li­censed char­ac­ters, sports­peo­ple and teams, celebri­ties, movie tie-ins, events, fes­ti­vals, com­pe­ti­tions, and spe­cial deals.

The re­search was pub­lished in the New Zealand Med­i­cal Jour­nal.

Com­ment­ing on the re­sults, Vic­to­ria Uni­ver­sity Health Psy­chol­ogy Pro­fes­sor An­to­nia Lyons said other stud­ies had shown a link be­tween food mar­ket­ing and eat­ing be­hav­iours.

With New Zealand’s high obe­sity rates among chil­dren, she said it was im­por­tant to know the im­pact of on­line mar­ket­ing.

Lyons said while it was easy to spot in­ap­pro­pri­ate ad­ver­tis­ing in tra­di­tional forms such as TV or news­pa­pers, so­cial me­dia mar­ket­ing was ‘‘more in­sid­i­ous’’.

‘‘It’s way more sub­tle, way more nu­anced, way more tar­geted and way more dif­fi­cult to iden­tify,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s all about catch­ing peo­ple’s in­ter­est and them want­ing to share things with their friends.

‘‘Then it be­comes elec­tronic word of mouth.’’

One dan­ger from fun on­line talk about un­healthy food prod­ucts was it made the food seem okay.

‘‘If you are ex­posed to it ev­ery­where on an ev­ery­day ba­sis, it kind of just nor­malises that these are just nor­mal ev­ery­day foods rather than oc­ca­sional foods, or foods we would call treats.’’

She said mar­keters aimed to drive a re­la­tion­ship with the brand.

‘‘So­cial me­dia is a lot about build­ing iden­ti­ties for young peo­ple and hav­ing a re­la­tion­ship with a brand can be kind of like em­bed­ding it into an iden­tity.’’

Lyons said so­cial me­dia sites made money by sell­ing users’ data.

Food com­pa­nies could use this data to tar­get peo­ple even more pow­er­fully and ef­fec­tively.

‘‘We need to know more about what is go­ing on in this space.’’

‘‘We need more ev­i­dence on what that means and how au­di­ences are re­spond­ing to it,’’ she said.

MAR­TIN HUNTER/STUFF

It’s harder to mon­i­tor on­line pro­mo­tions than tra­di­tional ad­ver­tis­ing.

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