Relevant literature on online advertising and marketing targeted at children

  • Barbie Clarke, Siv Svanaes Literature Review of Research on Online Food and Beverage Marketing to Children.
    • Produced for the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP). Family Kids & Youth
    • Summary of the Literature review: A great deal of public commentary suggests that online food marketing plays a negative role in what has been described as a child obesity epidemic.
    • Types and techniques: Content analysis in this area suggests that food products high in fat, salt, and sugar (HFSS) are being marketed online via websites, social networks, games and apps popular with children. These findings have similarities with previous findings from content analyses of advertising on children’s television. Advergames are the form of advertising that has received the most attention from researchers. due to the popularity of online games in general with children, which is believed to make advergames a highly effective and low-cost form of advertising, although published evidence on children’s actual playing of such branded or subsidised games is scant.
    • Online data collection, targeted advertising, mobile advertising, location-based advertising and advertising on social networks.
    • Children understanding: While earlier research focused mainly on advertisements in children’s web page design, There is very little research on children’s understanding of new forms of data-driven advertising, such as online data collection, targeted advertising, mobile advertising, location-based advertising and advertising on social networks. Βecause children find it difficult to recognise more immersive forms of online marketing, research must focus more on unconscious processing of advertising.
    • Effect and impact: Experimental studies show that online marketing techniques can influence children’s brand awareness and their short-term food preferences. Particularly, studies on advergames have found that children’s attitudes towards a brand are positively influenced by playing a game promoting it. An effect has also been found on children’s stated intention to request the advertised product. Children have been found to be more likely to choose the advertised snack over other healthier snacks after playing the game. Similar studies with advergames promoting healthy eating have shown inconclusive results.
    • Limitations:
      • There is limited in-depth, ethnographic or longitudinal research looking at the actual impact of online food marketing on children’s diets
      • Low children and parents engagement with the advertising they see in everyday life.
      • Need for more robust evidence of a causal effect of online food advertising on children’s eating habits, and for more sophisticated methods of measuring children’s online advertising exposure.
      • The majority of the available research has been carried out in the US. Overall, out of 106 papers reviewed for this report, only (18) eighteen describe research carried out in the UK. Although the internet is global and children may see sites based or targeted from outside the UK, there are difficulties in reading across findings from other countries to the UK experience.
      • Different cultural approaches, eating habits and regulatory regimes must be taken into account.
    • Regulatory initiatives: In the latter respect, the UK already has a framework of rules to which online food marketing is subject. Furthermore, some studies were conducted a number of years ago, when regulatory environments and corporate responsibility policies may not have fully taken ‘new’ media into account.
    • There is evidence from content analysis which indicates that products high in fat, salt and sugar are in some cases being advertised through new online marketing channels such as social networks and mobile apps. Given that children and teenagers are frequent users of mobile technology and social networks (and at an early age, despite some having a stated age limit of 13) there is concern that children are exposed to additional advertising for these products.