Digital marketing of unhealthy foods to Australian children and adolescents

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Abstract

The emergence of new media—including branded websites, social media and mobile applications—has created additional touch points for unhealthy food and beverage companies to target children and adolescents. The aim of this study was to perform an audit of new media for three top selling food and beverage brands in Australia. The top selling brand in three of the most advertised food and beverage categories was identified. Facebook, websites and mobile phone applications from these three brands were assessed using a combination of descriptive analyses and structured data collection during June and July 2013. Information on target audience, main focus of the activity, marketing strategies employed and connectivity were collected. Promotional activities were assessed against industry self-regulatory codes. McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Cadbury Dairy Milk were audited, with 21 promotional activities identified. These promotional activities appeared to use a number of marketing strategies, with frequent use of indirect product association, engagement techniques and branding. We identified strategic targeting of both children and adolescents. We found that while all promotional activities technically met self-regulatory codes (usually due to media-specific age restrictions) a number appeared to employ unhealthy food or beverage marketing directed to children. Brands are using engaging content via new media aimed at children and adolescents to promote unhealthy food and beverages. Given the limitations of self-regulatory codes in the context of new media, strategies need to be developed to reduce exposure of children and adolescents to marketing of unhealthy food and beverage products via these avenues.

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