Facebook for Fast Food: Ethics of Marketing to Children

Rule #1: Don’t log onto Facebook when you’re hungry. We’ve all seen it before, as soon as you log onto Facebook there are pictures and videos of food everywhere. These images are impossible to avoid. Unfortunately, most of the food shown on Facebook is either fast food or junk food. 

Sugars and Salt and Trans Fats! Oh My!

Ok, so I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is kids are seeing less fast food advertisements on television. In fact, kids between ages 6 and 11 saw 10% less advertisements for fast food on TV. The bad news is more fast food advertisements now target kids on social media.

A lot of junk food companies are turning their marketing efforts toward Facebook because it is considered the most popular social media site. In 2013, 6 billion fast food ads appeared on Facebook. Some of the top brands on Facebook include Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Red Bull and Oreo.

As restrictions tighten on television advertising to kids, advertisers are being forced to switch to other outlets, such as social media. The interactive and content sharing components of Facebook make it a marketing dream for junk food companies. The interactive aspects of the site make it even easier to market to children.

Junk food companies often use tactics such as competitions based on user-generated content, interactive games and apps in order to appeal to younger consumers. Also, users often willingly spread marketing messages on behalf of food and beverage companies with little incentive or reward required.

 

Ethics of Targeting Children 

There’s no denying it, childhood obesity rates are on the rise. Is it possible that this health issue is partially attributed to all the marketing messages children see for junk food?

In the past couple years, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for increased control on the marketing of foods that are high in sugars, salt and fat. WHO called the promotion of these foods to children “disastrous.”

Statistics show that McDonald’s alone spent 2.7 times as much to advertise its products as all fruit, vegetable, bottled water and milk advertisers combined. That’s not to mention the other junk food companies that are coming up with new advertisements everyday.

Although most social media sites have age limits, that is not stopping children from signing up. More than half of children use social media by the age of 10. The most popular site that these children join is Facebook. This makes Facebook the perfect place to market junk food to kids.

Most of the foods being marketing toward children have little to no nutritional value. Less than 1% of all kids’ meal combinations (33 of 5,427 possible meals) met the recommended nutrition standards.

Now you might be thinking well kids don’t have to eat unhealthy food just because they see advertisements for it. You might be right, but research shows that until the age 7 or 8, children do not have the cognitive capacity to recognize the persuasive intent of advertising.

Because children view advertising as simply another source of information, they cannot understand that what they are seeing might be biased. Children’s brains are also not fully developed to the point where they can control their impulses. This means if they are exposed to junk food and it is readily available, they will naturally choose to have it without further thought.

Marketers are aware of this information and therefore market their unhealthy foods to children. Because there are not many limits on marketing to children on social media, marketers are putting more and more effort into social media advertising.

By marketing to children at such a young age, fast food companies also get the parents as customers and will most likely gain a lifelong customer. Although these tactics are successful, it targets a vulnerable segment. As social media gains popularity, even more marketing efforts will be directed to reaching children on social media.

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Kayla Haggerty

Kayla is a specialist in the Public Relations and Marketing fields. Her previous experience includes work with the American Red Cross. She recently graduated Magna Cum Laude from Coastal Carolina University.
Kayla Haggerty
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