Monday, September 12, 2016

Empty pledges on food websites targeting children. A persuasive mark study.

Food manufacturers worldwide have typically adopted self-regulation when it concerns their targeting of children. In the EU, this resulted in the EU pledge that has seen some changes and more strict regulations in recent years. These more recent versions also include websites. The EU pledge members also monitor their compliance and this is a supposedly independent study. The results of that monitoring study are summarized as " a high level of member companies’ compliance with their commitments, as well as a significant change in the balance of food advertising to children in the EU towards options that meet common nutrition criteria" (p. 19). Of course, many of these producers typically have lean websites simply listing their catalogue, without a lot of marketing added.
Sample website from a corporate perspective. Little marketing involved

We also did a study to evaluate existing food websites targeting children. Rather than starting with the food producers, we started from the websites that are advertised to children (on food packages that often refer to campaign websites, online games etc.). In a study focusing on Belgium and the Netherlands, our results were much less rosy.
Marketing features were used on each website. Of all the foods these websites advertised, the vast majority (i.e. 88.5%) were unhealthy. A lot of the websites did actually not directly relate to the pledge members although these members represent a majority of food production. However, and this might be most unexpected, pledge members did not stand out with less marketed websites or websites advertising healthier food.
Sample website from a child's consumer perspective: a marketed advergame

More info on the article (International Journal of Health Promotion and Educationhere and a full read here

In the EU Pledge, food and beverage companies voluntarily engage themselves to stop marketing unhealthy foods and beverages to children under age 12. However, children are increasingly exposed to online marketing promoting unhealthy foods and beverages. The main purpose of this paper was to verify whether Belgian and Dutch pledge members’ child-targeting food websites actually comply to the guidelines of the EU Pledge. First, this paper describes the prominence of online marketing on 49 Belgian and Dutch child-targeting food websites and evaluates the nutrient content of the advertised foods and beverages. Second, it checks for the degree to which Belgian and Dutch food brands abide the EU Pledge. Results indicated that about 88.5% of the online-promoted products were unhealthy, whereas marketing features were still present at every website. The nutrient profile of the online-promoted foods and beverages did not differ significantly between pledge and non-pledge members. Only 8.2% of the websites used age blocks, whereas ad-break reminders were completely absent. We conclude that the food and beverage companies do not abide their vows: Children still have unlimited access to websites promoting unhealthy food.

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