April 16th, 2008

Junk Food Ads Find Web Home

By Julian Lee
Sydney Morning Herald

Junk food marketing is “monopolising” the internet as television advertising comes under scrutiny, a study says.

The analysis by Cancer Council NSW of 315 children’s websites found that ads for soft drink, ice-cream, fast food and confectionery outnumbered those for healthy foods by two to one.

Researchers looked at every food reference on 119 websites of companies active in marketing food and drink to children.

Rather than restrict the research to the websites of well-known chocolate or ice-cream brands they included 196 websites for which children aged two to 16 made up a large part of the audience.

The study found that food references - anything from a picture or an article to an ad or a game - appeared on 44 per cent of popular children’s websites.

Two-thirds of these were for unhealthy foods. Unhealthy products were three times more likely to be branded. Every mention of sugary cereals, for example, also mentioned the brand. Brands, however, made up only about 18 per cent of all food references on popular children’s websites.

The council said that many of the techniques used on food product websites for companies that included Cadbury, Nestle and Kellogg led it to conclude that “these techniques act to reinforce the food brand and increase children’s exposure time to the product. The ‘sticky’ nature of the internet, in that it captures and maintains children’s attention for extended periods, makes it a potent marketing medium.”

The study, published in the British journal Public Health Nutrition, found that 29 per cent of sites used advergames - in which the branded product is integrated into a computer game. The number of games per site varied. The Wrigley’s Candystand website contained 67 games.

Those sites targeting younger children and adolescents had a higher proportion of advergames than those for preschool-age children, as did those promoting sugary fizzy drinks, ice-cream and chocolate.

It also found that 58 per cent of sites targeting younger children featured the brand’s mascot - such as the Nesquik Bunny or the Coco Pops Monkey - as the main promotional character.

Because the study was the first of its kind in Australia, one of its authors, Kathy Chapman, the senior nutritionist at the Cancer Council, was unable to say if advertising expenditure had migrated from television to the internet before the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s review of children’s television standards was done.

“The marketing is becoming a lot more integrated,” she said. “It used to be a couple of things; now it’s a whole range, like the promotional characters, the giveaways and the games. There’s a lot more things going on.”

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