Six brands target children with ‘hidden’ junk food advertising on digital media: prof

Digital media marketing firms are using personalised promotion, interactive and direct engagement and integrated cross-platform techniques to sell products to young people that are high in fat, sugar and salt, according to University of Sydney Business School research — pushing the limits on social media and the web while regulators focus on more traditional media.

In her study of six food brands, associate professor of marketing Teresa Davis identifies a number of methods used by digital marketers to build brand relationships with young consumers in ways not seen in traditional media.

Dr Davis tells NBR the six brands are:

  • Coca-Cola South Pacific;
  • McDonald’s;
  • Cadbury Australia (part of Kraft Foods Australia);
  • Chupa Chups;
  • Doritos Australia (part of The Smith’s Snackfood Company; and
  • Pringles (part of Kellogg)

"The easiest examples to explain are ‘tag a friend with their favorite flavour of Cadbury’s chocolate/Doritos/pringles’ type of Facebook campaign," Dr Davis says.

"This allows a company access to the friends of their consumers’ Facebook pages and friends of friends — a multiplicative effect."

In one of her examples, a young person needs to take a picture of their ‘summer moment’ after having bought pringles from a Coles supermarket, put the picture up on pringles Facebook page — plus their own, which then goes onto anyone following the young person. It is also required that they share all their personal details with the company. "Issues of privacy, confidentiality, and ethics are raised here," Dr Davis says.

"Similarly theOreoss and Cadburys ‘who is your best beach buddy’ campaigns want young people to share a picture of themselves on the beach with the company Facebook page to win a competition."

She adds that a "share your location for an emergency Coke" campaign "does not sound very safe."

Facebook could not be immediately reached for comment, but the social network does have an age-restriction in Australia and New Zealand; you have to be 13 or over to sign up, although the requirement is only lightly policed.

Dr Davis says her findings could have implications for future policies and regulatory measures needed to help combat growing obesity rates.

While regulation exists to limit the advertising of ‘junk’ food to children through television and other broadcast media, little is understood about how children are affected by online advertising, much of which is considered to be delivered “under-the-radar” via product placement, she says. (Here, the Advertising Standards Authority recently released a new Children and Young People's Advertising Code, but it does not specifically mention digital platforms as it applies to all media. If you think that, say, a location-based ad campaign puts minors at risk, NetSafe — which administers the Harmful Digital Communications Act and has a direct line into the major social networks — is probably a better first port of call.)

“Since working on my PhD, ‘How young children recognise the symbolism of brands’, it has been clear to me that young children do not understand advertising in quite the same way that adults do,” Dr Davis says.

“Cognitively, there are developmental differences. This simply means their minds are more vulnerable to persuasion.”

“Regulations governing traditional advertising does more to help protect the vulnerable,” she said. “Hidden advertising in newer forms of digital media makes it harder than ever for children, and their parents, to understand how much of it they are exposed to.”

Dr Davis’ study analysed the content of branded mobile phone applications, branded websites and branded Facebook sites to understand the nature of consumer–brand relationship strategies employed by digital marketers.

“Food marketers have an unfair advantage in the digital space. Understanding how it works and how it can be regulated or managed is extremely important if we want to ensure a healthy future for generations,” said Dr Davis.

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The food police strike again!

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Food manufacturers' talking point #57. Is that the best you can do?

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Yes, the "Food Police" are the same as the "Drug Police" the "Bike Helmet Police" the "Seatbelt Police" etc etc. They all want to impose their ideas on us. How do you feel about "Teacher Nudity in Classroom Police?" Waa waa I want my rights of self- expression.....
All straw man arguments but where does imposition begin and end? Otago Uni' 2014 study shows 66% of NZers are overweight and half of those are obese.

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God so what? The little fatties can just go and have a run. Does it matter that so many people are overweight or obese?

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Yes, because it can lead to otherwise unnecessary hospital or clinic work, which takes taxpayer funds from other, possibly far more important, medical care

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After an all night rave and all out of mdma I could sure use some emergency coke, ... oh wait

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I was at Waihi Beach over the break. Lovely spot. I was at the playground near the surf club end with my two kids, aged 4 and 5.
Suddenly, two mini vans turn up. Both rented from Whangarei (the decals gave it away). Out poured 7 kids roughly aged between 5 and 9. All were obese. Out came their parents, also obese. The patents then proceeded to give three kids a 1.5 L raspberry soda each to drink, another 2 had 1L juice cartons while the remaining two alternated between the soda and the juice.
While the kids were playing the two sets of parents then double downed behind the vans (out of the westerly) and got stuck into the smokes for a solid 20-odd minutes.
My point: for all the discussions on commercials aimed at kids, you could target thousands of ads at young ones, but they are absolutely weak when compared to what elders do in front of them.
So, when I read (yet) another report by (yet) another intellectual getting in the fat kids/ads bandwagon, I have to take their opinions with a pinch of salt.
Finally, other than the odd pre roll on YouTube, most kids have skillfully edited ads out of their lives (apart from the deplorably ineffective ones on Facebook, let alone terrestrial TV).
I reckon that Dr Davis needed an easy win for her Phd.
Pity she dared not to look at home for the truth.

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