The role of new media in marketing unhealthy food and beverages to children and adolescents.  — ASN Events

The role of new media in marketing unhealthy food and beverages to children and adolescents.  (#226)

Tara Boelsen-Robinson 1 , Kathryn Backholer 1 , Anna Peeters 1
  1. Epidemiology, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Prahran, VIC, Australia


The growth of new media – including branded websites, social media, mobile applications and content sharing websites – has created new avenues for unhealthy food and beverage companies to target children and adolescents utilising digital marketing techniques. The aim of this study was to perform an audit of the usage of new media in the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children and adolescents.


The top selling brand from each of the five most advertised food categories was identified. A brand audit sought to identify how these five brands utilised digital marketing aimed at children and adolescents. Utilising a combination of structured data collection and descriptive analyses to illustrate individual campaigns, information on target audience, the main focus of the activity, marketing strategies employed, connectivity and length of presence, potential reach and adherence to self regulation was collected. 


McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Cadbury Dairy Milk were selected as being sufficiently active on digital media, and a combined number of 36 promotional activities were identified during June and July 2013, out of which 22 met the inclusion criteria. These included a range of mobile applications, branded websites, and Facebook, Twitter and YouTube content. The most common types of promotional activity identified were mobile applications (11), Facebook (8), and branded websites (8). Emerging themes included the frequent use of animation and music, as well as encouragement to spread the content virally via social media sites. Indirect product associations were often fun, playful, cool, and used humour aimed at children and/or adolescents. Branding was prominent in nearly all promotional activities.


Food and beverage companies are utilising engaging content via new media that is aimed at children and adolescents. Strategies need to be developed to reduce exposure of children and adolescents to unhealthy food and drink branding.