How food firms target children
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
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
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.
It’s harder to monitor online promotions than traditional advertising.