Junk food advertisers go to many means to get kids hooked on their products, according to University of Wollongong academic Sandra Jones.
Professor Jones and her team at the Centre for Health Initiatives have undertaken a 12-month study looking at the methods marketers use to get children to try to buyfast food, soft drink and high-calorie snack foods.
Television advertising is often seen as the culprit but Professor Jones said food manufacturers also used kids’ magazines, sporting sponsorships, celebrity endorsements, promotions and websites to capture their markets – and legislation needed to reflect that.
‘‘Parents need to be aware of the marketing ploys used by food companies, so they can talk to their kids about them,’’ she said.
‘‘But it shouldn’t just be up to parents – marketers need to be more responsible and governments need to have clever and consistent rules for children’s advertising in all forums.
‘‘In the past lobbying efforts were concentrated on trying to restrict ‘unhealthy’ food advertising during children’s viewing times and restrictions are now in place. But television advertising is a tiny proportion of the food marketing that goes on. Plus, on TV it is obvious what is an ad and what isn’t, as there’s a separate ad break – in other channels used by marketers the distinction is not so obvious.’’
For instance, Professor Jones said, children’s magazines were filled with commercial messages.
‘‘The distinction between the content and the ad becomes more blurry in magazines,’’ she said. ‘‘Research we’ve done at UOW shows that children often can’t tell what is an ad and what is not.’’
Junk food marketing was often ‘‘disguised’’ in the form of competitions and games, as well as product placement such as editorial sections called ‘‘must haves’’.
‘‘There’s competitions that ask children to describe why they like a product in 25 words or less or word games where they have to find words related to a product,’’ Professor Jones said. ‘‘What’s really concerning about this is that food marketers are not only engaging kids with products, but are coaxing information out of them enabling them to build up a database of addresses, ages and attitudes of these children.’’
Many food manufacturers and fast food chains were also marketing to children online.
‘‘Many food companies have really engaging and interactive websites which get kids involved in games, in entering competitions and downloading product-related information such as screensavers or even party invitations,’’ Professor Jones said.
‘‘They even encourage kids to help market their products for them, by ‘liking’ them on Facebook, for example.’’
Packaging also prompted kids to align with a certain brand – eg fast food companies and their toys-with-purchase deals – while sponsorship deals also influenced children’s food decisions.