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Unhealthy food brands are using Facebook to engage with young people and share content with their social networks. Australians have enthusiastically taken to Facebook and most young teens own a mobile phone.

An Australian study looked at the top twenty-seven food and beverage brand pages ‘liked’ by Australians. They found most pages used celebrities, licenced characters popular with children and sportspeople to promote their products. Fast food restaurant pages posted special price promotions and vouchers. Facebook pages used user generated content to increase engagement and reach of their brand. Most commonly, people were encouraged to upload photos of themselves eating the product and tag the brand page when they share it with their own Facebook friends. Some pages had games such as word searches or very simple gaming tasks featuring animated animals.

The authors warn that focusing on restricting advertisements during children’s programming on television will miss large amounts of advertising to adolescents.

Freeman B, Kelly B, Baur L, et al. Digital Junk: Food and Beverage Marketing on Facebook. Am J Public Health 2014 Oct 16;  e1-e9

Busted

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Over ten years the Parents Jury Fame and Shame Awards have exposed sneaky marketing techniques to children. This year saw a new award, the Foul Play award for the hotly contested area of marketing through sponsorship of children’s sport. The winner was Coca Cola’s Powerade sports loyalty program which incentivises sport clubs to purchase unhealthy drinks to get a range of sports equipment. For a set of seven netball bibs valued at around $50, a club would be required to purchase $1,600 worth of drinks. This equates to the consumption of 442 bottles of Powerade, containing a whopping 15kg of sugar.

Commenting on the 10th year of the awards, Clare Hughes, Nutrition Program Manager at Cancer Council NSW said “We have seen food companies adapt and become even craftier in their pursuit to promote sugar-laden, high-sodium and fatty foods to children; using new channels such as sporting codes, social media channels and digital apps.”

In the Digital Ninja category, the Fanta Flavour Lab app and the McDonald’s Emlings app shared the prize, together covering marketing to children of all ages. The Fanta app uses engaging games to entice teens into playing branded games and sharing their achievements with their friends on FaceBook. The McDonald’s app is made for 4-8 year olds and features the Happy Meal box, promoting early engagement with the brand.

Nestlé Australia received the Pester Power Award for its Wonka Chocolate Golden Ticket promotion encouraging children to pester their parents to buy blocks of Wonka chocolate using the hook of finding an elusive golden ticket inside.

The Parents’ Choice Award for marketing that promotes healthy eating and physical activity to children in a fun and appealing way was awarded to Woolworths for the Jamie’s Garden Collectibles promotion because it taught children about eating fresh healthy food.

Read more at Fame and Shame Awards

Do you think these are worthy winners?