Junk food marketers bombarding children

By June Shannon Policy News   |   18th Apr 2018

The Irish Heart Foundation is calling for a blanket ban on junk food marketing to under-16s

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Controversial tactics employed by Cambridge Analytica to target voters in the US Presidential Election have been used for years by junk food marketers to distort children’s food choices, the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs heard today.

The Irish Heart Foundation was seeking support for a blanket ban on junk food marketing to under-16s at a hearing into tackling childhood obesity conducted by the Committee.

Mr Chris Macey Head of Advocacy with the Irish Heart Foundation said, “If a small consultancy company virtually nobody had previously heard of potentially influenced the course of a US presidential election and the Brexit referendum using data harvested via Facebook, imagine the extent to which junk food marketers can use digital platforms to manipulate children.

“Cambridge Analytica attempted to persuade adult voters to exercise their franchise in a particular way over a short period of time. Junk food marketing involves the world’s best marketing brains in the world’s biggest agencies relentlessly targeting children, who we know are way more susceptible to advertising, every single day.

“When the Irish Heart Foundation published Europe’s first ever research on the tactics used by junk food marketers to target children, we hadn’t heard of Cambridge Analytica, or psychographic microtargeting. But it’s what junk food marketers have been doing for years to bombard children with clever marketing messages that distort their food choices.”

Mr Macey said the causal link between unhealthy food marketing and child obesity has been conclusively proved resulting in regulation of broadcast advertising to children five years ago. This prompted an explosion in unregulated digital marketing that’s more personalised, effective and therefore potentially more damaging.

Junk food marketing involves the world’s best marketing brains in the world’s biggest agencies relentlessly targeting children

Mr Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy, Irish Heart Foundation

“As a result, junk brands have achieved a wholly inappropriate proximity to children – pestering them relentlessly in school, at home, even in their bedrooms through their smart phones. It’s called the ‘brand in the hand’ and gives marketers constant access to children.”

Mr Macey said that marketers have huge amounts of individual information extracted from children by digital platforms like Facebook: who they are, where they live, where they go, who their friends are, their hobbies, heroes, favourite foods etc.

“They use this information to connect with children on a one-to-one basis, employing the so-called 3Es – powerful engagement, emotional and entertainment-based tactics. There’s a strong emphasis on fun and humour, using sports stars and celebrities, festivals, special days and competitions.

“The effect is that children associate positive emotions and excitement with junk brands. They often don’t realise they’re being advertised at. Brands get onto their newsfeeds and interact like real friends, effectively becoming part of children’s social lives. They even get children to become marketers for them by tagging friends into ads and posting messages.”

Mr Macey added that the State’s response to date had been feeble, putting its faith through a voluntary code in an industry whose major players have shown consistently they’ll do as little as they can get away with.

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