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Food marketing online

The explosion of digital culture has transformed the way food and beverage companies market unhealthy products to young people. No longer limited to one-directional forms of advertising that deliver a single message to the masses, marketers can now engage kids and teens in a dialogue with highly personalized forms of marketing. Thanks to the high penetration of mobile devices among this age group, they can also reach youth 24/7 and often without parents’ knowledge. The goal of marketers isn’t just to sell products — it’s to get young people to bond with brands on a personal and emotional level.

Food and beverage companies often use manipulative and downright deceptive practices to integrate their promotions into young people’s social relationships and minute-by-minute interactions. For example, marketers leverage location-based technology to bypass parents and send ads straight to teens’ cell phones; they infiltrate conversations on Facebook and Twitter and invite teens to create branded content and share it with their friends; they collect online data and use it to analyze behavior patterns and adjust their targeting strategies accordingly; they even create immersive environments, such as advergames and virtual worlds, to blur the line between marketing and entertainment.

Amid our current childhood obesity epidemic, this intensity of marketing is a threat to youth health and a cause for concern among health professionals, advocates, policymakers and parents. In October of 2011, consumer and privacy groups acted on that concern, filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog and The Praxis Project asked the FTC to investigate and bring an action against PepsiCo and its subsidiary Frito-Lay for unfair and deceptive digital marketing practices.

This example is just one of many in which food and beverage marketers are using the technological advances of the digital age to deliver advertising in ways that are increasingly difficult to detect and resist. Given young people’s unique developmental vulnerabilities, this new marketing “normal” will prove detrimental to the health and welfare of children and teens for years to come if we do not work together to challenge these practices.

Learn more about food marketing online

Website: digitalads.org
Berkeley Media Studies Group, Center for Digital Democracy

State law approaches to address digital food marketing to youth: Full report
Public Health Advocacy Institute, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Center for Digital Democracy

It’s not just for teens: Viral marketing to young children
Public Health Advocacy Institute, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Center for Digital Democracy

Food and beverage advertising on children’s websites [pdf]
UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity

Webinar: What you need to know to promote healthy eating in your state: New Federal Trade Commission report on food marketing to childrenslides and full recording
Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Food Marketing Workgroup, National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity

A review of food marketing to children and adolescents: Follow-up report, December 2012
Federal Trade Commission

The new age of food marketing: How companies are targeting and luring our kids — and what advocates can do about it
Center for Digital Democracy, Public Health Law & Policy, and Berkeley Media Studies Group

Food marketing in the digital age: A conceptual framework and agenda for research
Kathyrn Montgomery and Sonya Grier (American University), Jeff Chester (Center for Digital Democracy), and Lori Dorfman (Berkeley Media Studies Group)

Peeking behind the curtain: Food and marketing industry research supporting digital media marketing to children and adolescents
Jeff Chester (Center for Digital Democracy), Andrew Cheyne and Lori Dorfman (both of Berkeley Media Studies Group)

Video: Digital food and beverage marketing to children and adolescents
featuring an interview with Lori Dorfman, director of Berkeley Media Studies Group

FTC complaint (& appendices)

Complaint and request for investigation of PepsiCo’s and Frito-Lay’s deceptive practices in marketing Doritos to adolescents [pdf]
Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog, The Praxis Project

FTC complaint appendices A-L [pdf]
Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog, The Praxis Project

Complaint to FTC against Gatorade for exaggerating its health benefits and encouraging dangerous behavior among teens [pdf]
Public Health Advocacy Institute, Berkeley Media Studies Group, California Center for Public Health Advocacy, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Public Health Institute, UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity