Public health researchers estimate that companies spend $ 14 billion a year marketing food, most of which is devoted to products with low nutritional value. This does not tell the whole story: as documented by journalist Michael Moss, companies also invest significant resources in the development of foods with highly addictive qualities.
The paper examined a variety of digital environments, from social media to video game streaming sites, where youth data is collected and targeted ads are posted. For example, he cited a 2019 Burger King advertising campaign that used geolocation data on phones to detect when potential customers were less than 600 feet from a McDonald’s, before encouraging them to head to Burger King to get a free Whopper. (Well, almost for free, burgers cost a penny.) On the popular live streaming platform Twitch, Mountain Dew created a popular chatbot to collect consumer data while promoting soda.
Campaigns on Instagram and Twitch may not be explicitly targeted at children, but their practices (such as hiring popular influencers from TikTok to promote products) do so effectively because children are an important part of platform users. And because of the loopholes in laws designed to protect children’s privacy online, according to the authors, companies can collect information about young people, including their name, location and photos, analyze the data and use it to target ads to people of an age who are easily influenced.
“Advertising is a classic conditioning process where it creates positive associations between these products and results such as happiness, joy, fun, freshness, all the messages that are shown in the ads and, in a way, become components of children’s brains “. said Jennifer Harris, a senior advisor in food marketing research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, who did not participate in the study. “Over time, these eating preferences and behaviors contribute to diet-related diseases.”