13th April 2018, Volume 131 Number 1473

Stefanie Vandevijvere, Charlotte Aitken, Boyd Swinburn

Results from the recent New Zealand Health Survey revealed that one in three New Zealand children are either overweight or obese,1 and one of the factors known to influence the unhealthy food and beverage choices related to childhood obesity is food and beverage marketing.2–4 Nowadays there are countless platforms that companies can use to target children and adolescents and consumers more broadly, with social media sites like Facebook and YouTube being very popular.5 In 2012, 93% of New Zealanders aged 15–24 years used the Internet, with this number likely to have grown since. In addition, 88% of Internet users engage in social media, with Facebook and YouTube being the most popular sites.6

A review undertaken of New Zealand studies to date indicates that advertisements through a wide range of media platforms are predominantly for unhealthy foods.7 Previous research on the extent and nature of unhealthy food and beverage advertising in New Zealand, however, has mainly focused on traditional media platforms like television and magazines.8–10 Traditional media is still important for marketers as a recent study on television advertising in New Zealand showed that the average rate of unhealthy food advertising was 9.1±5.2 per hour and about 88% of unhealthy food advertisements were shown during children’s peak viewing times.11 However, new media, such as online and social media allows marketers to engage more deeply with their audiences and even magnify effects of traditional media.5 A previous New Zealand study identified a wide range of marketing techniques and features on food brand websites, including advercation (87%), viral marketing (64%), cookies (54%), free downloadable items (43%), promotional characters (39%), designated children’s sections (19%) and advergaming (13%). Most techniques appeared more frequently on websites specifically targeting children and adolescents, than on other websites targeting the general public.12 Food marketing on social media has not yet been analysed in New Zealand and there are very few studies internationally. A recent Australian study analysing content of Facebook pages of the most popular food brands found that competitions based on user-generated content, interactive games and apps were the most common techniques used to engage with consumers, adolescents in particular.13 In addition, the study found that adolescents and young adults appeared to be the users engaging the most with the marketing content.13 Another Australian study also found that the majority of promotional activities that selected food brands are using to promote unhealthy food and beverages are targeted at adolescents.14 In general, adolescents are considered an important target group for food and beverage marketers.15 Currently in New Zealand, advertising is self-regulated by the industry-led Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ASA recently reviewed its advertising codes. The Children’s and Young People’s Advertising Code (the new Code)16 went into full effect beginning October 2017. It strengthens previous restrictions on advertising of occasional (ie, unhealthy) food and beverages, specifically for children younger than 14 years. For adolescents 14–18 years, these same restrictions do not apply.16

In addition, the new Code includes definitions about targeting children. As for social media in particular, the new Code implies that brands and companies cannot target any occasional food advertisements to children and young people aged less than 14 years old.16 However, research has consistently shown that self-regulation does not significantly reduce children’s exposure to unhealthy food and beverage marketing,7,17 and a critical review of the new Code by 77 health professors indicates that the impact of the new Code on reducing exposure of children and adolescents to unhealthy food marketing is uncertain.18

The aim of this study is to determine the extent, nature and potential impact of internet-based food and beverage marketing by analysis of the marketing of popular food brands in New Zealand on Facebook and YouTube.

Methods

Selection of food and beverage brands

Using Socialbakers,19 a global social media analytics company, the most popular food and beverage brands on Facebook and YouTube in New Zealand were identified. Numbers of page ‘likes’ by New Zealanders on Facebook and numbers of New Zealand channel subscribers on YouTube (including all age groups) were used as a measure of popularity.

We selected the 15 most popular Facebook pages and the five most popular YouTube channels for each of the packaged food, fast food and beverage categories, giving us 45 Facebook pages and 15 YouTube channels to analyse. Brands tended to post less frequently on YouTube than Facebook, so two years of YouTube videos (2015–2016) and two months of Facebook posts (October–November 2016) were analysed for each brand selected.

Data collection

Screenshots of each post on a popular brand’s Facebook page were captured with Evernote and the following information was entered into a database: the type of post (video, image or text alone), the number of likes, shares, comments and views (if post was a video), the presence of a food or beverage product, the nutritional quality of the product if one was advertised, the use of activities, premium offers and/or promotional strategies. Similar information was collected for each YouTube video, including the number of video views, the presence of a food or beverage product, the nutritional quality of the food or beverage product if one was advertised, and the use of activities, premium offers and/or promotional strategies. For three food brand Facebook pages and three Youtube Channels (one of each food industry sector), two researchers coded the advertisements independently and compared results. Since there were no discrepancies, one researcher then continued coding the remaining pages and channels.

To assess the nutritional quality of advertised food and beverage products, the Ministry of Health Food and Beverage Classification System (updated in 2016 and now under the auspices of the Heart Foundation and called “Fuelled For Life”)20–22 was used, which classifies products as ‘everyday’, ‘sometimes’ or ‘occasional’. This is the classification system used by the new Code. Everyday foods and drinks are the healthiest choices and are from the four food groups (vegetables and fruit, breads and cereals, milk and milk products, meat and alternatives). Sometimes foods and drinks are mostly processed foods with some added fat, salt or sugar. Occasional foods and drinks are high in saturated fat, salt or sugar and should not be provided or sold to children (eg, confectionery, sugar-sweetened beverages).

Activities for consumers included games, recipe ideas, voting, commenting, tagging friends, liking and sharing posts, following the brand on other media forms (eg, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter), arts and crafts, registering for an event or downloading apps.

Promotional strategies included the use of cartoons/company owned characters, licensed characters, amateur sportspersons, famous sportspersons/teams, sports events, non-sports celebrities, movie tie-ins, non-sporting events/festivals, claims of awards won, a child consuming a product and advercation (where information about the company or its foods is presented as educational material). Premium offers included the use of competitions, buy one get one free (or similar), 20% extra product (or similar), limited time only/limited edition, donation to charity, free item with purchase and limited time product discounts.

Reach

On Facebook (not possible through Socialbakers) we estimated the potential reach of posts made by each food brand among 13–18 year-olds using the “Create ad” feature, which defines a target Facebook audience for potential advertisers. When logged in to Facebook as a Page Administrator, Create Adverts could be selected from the dropdown menu. In Create a Custom Audience, we specified ‘New Zealand’ and ‘13–18 years’. The Interests filter then listed the size of specific audiences by looking at their interests, activities, the pages they have liked and closely related topics, ie, Facebook assesses a potential audience who have ‘liked’ or engaged with named pages or similar ones. We entered the food and drink brands that were most popular by the general New Zealand population as derived from Socialbakers as interests and identified which of these food and drink brands Facebook defined as generating the greatest potential reach among 13–18 year-olds in New Zealand. However, we were unable to obtain similar estimates for YouTube.

Results

Facebook

The most popular Facebook page among packaged food brands was Whittaker’s Chocolate Lovers, however, the page with the highest potential reach among 13–18 year-olds was Chupa Chups. Among popular fast food companies, the most popular page and the page with the highest potential reach among 13–18 year-olds was McDonald’s. For popular beverage brands, Coca Cola was the most popular Facebook page and had the highest potential reach among 13–18 year-olds (Table 1).

Table 1: Extent of advertising by food brands popular in New Zealand on their Facebook pages (October–November 2016).

Popularity rank

Food brand

Number of page likes1

Potential likes of page among 13–18 year olds2

Number of posts on page during two-month period

PACKAGED FOOD

1

Whittaker’s Chocolate Lovers

394,359

14,000

19

2

Griffin’s

242,072

12,000

13

3

Cadbury Dairy Milk

234,456

21,000

9

4

Tip Top Ice Cream

191,569

12,000

18

5

Skittles

170,602

8,200

0

6

Chupa Chups

161,619

56,000

8

7

Lewis Road Creamery

158,798

5,300

62

8

Nutri-Grain NZ

113,953

11,000

6

9

Kiwi Bacon

106,834

4,100

8

10

Pringles

106,231

35,000

2

11

Tasti NZ

98,997

N.A3

7

12

Puhoi Valley

85,604

N.A3

45

13

Ferrero Rocher

84,033

7,100

4

14

KitKat

81,181

14,000

13

15

Marmite NZ

79,538

2,900

11

FAST FOOD

1

McDonald’s

423,818

100,000

10

2

KFC

372,312

81,000

26

3

Domino’s NZ

234,054

23,000

34

4

Pizza Hut

212,390

41,000

22

5

Subway NZ

212,390

35,000

19

6

Burger King NZ

185,295

27,000

53

7

Carl’s Jr. NZ

171,591

34,000

26

8

Pita Pit NZ

129,097

29,000

15

9

BurgerFuel

100,023

29,000

10

10

Starbucks

80,149

42,000

4

11

Hell Pizza

79,043

6,600

26

12

Subway

68,478

35,000

23

13

Nando’s NZ

68,014

8,100

18

14

Mexico NZ

56,969

N.A3

244

15

Wendy’s NZ

55,612

9,200

35

BEVERAGES

1

Coca Cola NZ

213,369

42,000

6

2

Red Bull

190,654

41,000

14

3

Lemon & Paeroa

189,313

17,000

4

4

V Energy NZ

144,141

7,800

11

5

Monster Energy

115,654

9,500

54

6

Mountain Dew – NZ

76,787

17,000

10

7

Powerade NZ

69,491

8,800

12

8

V Energy Drink Australia

66,846

2,100

6

9

Pepsi NZ

60,274

12,000

6

10

Charlie’s Drinks

52,014

<1,000

7

11

Dr Pepper

27,253

1,800

21

12

Lipton Ice Tea

20,714

2,300

3

13

Phoenix Drinks

19,309

N.A3

105

14

Gatorade NZ

18,817

6,700

21

15

Sprite Australia and NZ

18,286

N.A3

7

1. Number of New Zealanders who like the Facebook page. Data obtained from the Social bakers website in mid-November 2016.
2. Estimated using the ‘Create Ads’ feature on Facebook for the particular food brand.
3. Not applicable. There was no information on potential likes by adolescents for these company pages.
4. Six posts were excluded because they contained alcohol.
5. One post was excluded because it contained alcohol. 

Overall, 762 Facebook posts were made by the 45 brands during October and November 2016, and 28% of these posts were videos (Table 2). The number of posts made over the two-month period varied largely between brands, ranging from zero posts (zero posts per day) by Skittles to 62 posts (one post per day) by Lewis Road Creamery (Table 1), giving an overall average of 17 posts (0.3 posts per day) (Table 2).

Table 2: Comparison between popular packaged food, beverage and fast food brands of extent, nature and nutritional quality of posts made on their Facebook pages (October–November 2016).

 

Packaged food brands (n=15 brands)

Fast food brands3 (n=15 brands)

Beverage brands3 (n=15 brands)

Total

(n=45

brands)

Volume and type of posts

Total number of posts on all pages (n)

225

345

192

762

Average number of posts per page (n)

15

23

13

17

Average number of posts per day per page (n)

0.2

0.4

0.2

0.3

Posts that were videos (n (%))

45 (20)

76 (22)

94 (49)

215 (28)

Level of consumer interaction with posts1

Likes per post (mean ± SD)

830 ± 1,408

1,916 ± 9,503

8,526 ± 26,791

3,261 ± 15,228

Shares per post (mean ± SD)

71 ± 222

481 ± 3,463

989 ± 2,729

488 ± 2,727

Comments per post (mean ± SD)

294 ± 680

268 ± 796

294 ± 832

282 ± 773

Views per video (mean ± SD)

79,021 ± 75,152

437,088 ± 988,319

782,817 ± 2,053,039

514,908 ± 1,509,284

Nutritional quality of food and/or beverage products in posts

Posts containing a food and/or beverage product (n (%))

187 (83)

231 (67)

71 (37)

489 (64)

Food and/or beverage products classified as occasional2 (n (%))

205 (91)

208 (90)

71 (100)

484 (99)

Facebook pages with 100% of products classified as occasional (n (%))

11 (73)

8 (53)

13 (87)

32 (71)

Use of marketing techniques in posts

Posts with an activity for consumers (n (%))

128 (57)

105 (30)

44 (23)

276 (36)

Posts with a promotional strategy (n (%))

52 (23)

121 (35)

136 (71)

309 (41)

Posts with a premium offer (n (%))

81 (36)

145 (42)

35 (18)

261 (34)

  1. The number of likes, comments, shares and views on each post may include non-New Zealanders who have also liked the brands Facebook page.
  2. Classified according to the Ministry of Health food and beverage classification system.
  3. Six Posts by fast food brands and one post by a beverage brand were excluded because they included an alcohol product. 

Of the Facebook posts, 64% contained a food or beverage product and the remainder posts were marketing the brand or company without depicting a specific food or beverage product. About 99% of food and beverage products marketed were classified as being for occasional consumption only. Of the 45 pages analysed, 32 had 100% of their advertised products classified as occasional (Table 2). The pages with the largest potential reach among 13–18 year-olds in each of the three categories (Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Chupa Chups) all had 100% of their advertised food or beverage products classified as occasional.

Activities for consumers were used in 36% of Facebook posts, with asking consumers to like, comment, tag and share posts being the most commonly used activity. Promotional strategies were used in 41% of posts, and the most frequently used strategy was having a famous sportsperson/team in the post. Premium offers were used in 34% of posts, with competitions being the most common offer used (Table 2 and Figure 1).

It was estimated some posts for the most popular brands could potentially reach 10% of New Zealand adolescents (Table 1).

YouTube

The most popular YouTube channels in the packaged foods, fast food outlet and beverage categories were KitKat, Hell Pizza and V Energy NZ respectively (Table 3).

Table 3: Extent of advertising by food brands popular in New Zealand on their Youtube channels (2015–2016).

Popularity ranking

Brand YouTube Channel

Number of channel subscribers1

Number of videos during two-year period (n)

PACKAGED FOOD

1

KitKat Australia & New Zealand

2,786

16

2

Tic Tac ANZ

2,419

6

3

Whittaker’s Chocolate

872

11

4

Weetbix NZ

637

25

5

Anchor NZ

348

62

FAST FOOD

1

Hell Pizza NZ

35,577

1

2

Maccas NZ

2,620

20

3

KFC NZ

905

24

4

Carl’s Jr. NZ

549

23

5

Domino’s NZ

433

29

BEVERAGES

1

V Energy NZ

2,893

15

2

Coke Happiness NZ

841

10

3

Nescafe Australia & NZ

810

19

4

Sprite Australia & NZ

684

14

5

Mountain Dew NZ

394

25

1. Data obtained from the Socialbakers website in mid-November 2016. 

Overall, 300 YouTube videos were made by the 15 YouTube channels during 2015–2016 (Table 4). The volume of videos made over the two-year period varied largely between brands, ranging from one video (0.0 videos per month) by Hell Pizza to 62 videos (2.6 videos per month) by Anchor (Table 3), giving an overall average of 20 videos over the two-year period (0.8 videos per month) (Table 4).

Table 4: Comparison between popular packaged food, beverage and fast food brands of extent, nature and nutritional quality of posts made on their Youtube channel (2015–2016).

 

Packaged foods (n=5 brands)

Fast food outlets (n=5 brands)

Beverages (n=5 brands)

Total (n=15 brands)

Quantity and views of videos

Total number of videos by all channels (n)

120

97

83

300

Average number of videos per channel (n)

24

19

17

20

Average number of videos per channel each month (n)

1.0

0.8

0.7

0.8

Average number of views per video (mean ± sd)

87,879 ± 279,754

27,576 ± 62,654

124,395 ± 247,355

78,408 ± 225,732

Nutritional quality of foods and/or beverages in videos

Videos containing a food and/or beverage product (n (%))

94 (78)

82 (85)

76 (90)

252 (84)

Food and/or beverage products that were classified as occasional1 (n (%))

36 (38)

82 (100)

76 (100)

194 (77)

YouTube channels with 100% of products classified as occasional (n (%))

3 (60)

5 (100)

5 (100)

13 (87)

Use of marketing techniques

Videos containing an activity for consumers (n (%))

42 (35)

29 (30)

29 (35)

100 (33)

Videos containing a promotional strategy (n (%))

104 (87)

38 (39)

40 (48)

182 (61)

Videos containing a premium offer (n (%))

13 (11)

35 (36)

25 (30)

73 (24)

1. Classified according to the Ministry of Health food and beverage classification system. 

Figure 1: Examples of activities, premium offers and promotional strategies on food brands’ Facebook pages.

c 

Of the YouTube videos, 84% contained a food or beverage product and 77% of these products were classified as being for occasional consumption only. Of the 15 YouTube channels analysed, 13 had 100% of their advertised products classified as for occasional consumption only (Table 4).

Activities for consumers were used in 33% of YouTube videos, with arts and crafts being the most commonly used activity. Promotional strategies were used in 61% of videos and premium offers were used in 24% of videos. Similar to Facebook, the most common promotional strategy used was having a famous sportsperson/team in the video and the most common premium offer used was having a competition (Table 4).

Discussion

The extent of unhealthy food advertising by popular food and beverage brands on Facebook is substantial in New Zealand, with food brands posting on average every three days, but some brands more than once a day. In comparison, advertising was lower on YouTube, with brands posting videos less than once a month on average on their respective channels. The total volume of advertising by those food brands is likely much larger as this study only looked at posts on food brand pages and channels, and not all advertising by those brands on Facebook and YouTube is listed on their pages and channels.

On both Facebook and YouTube, the food and beverage products advertised by brands were nearly all classified as occasional according to the Ministry of Health food and beverage classification system.20 The potential exposure to such ads is important as for the most popular brands it was estimated that about 10% of adolescents could potentially notice them in their Facebook newsfeeds. Social media advertisements use marketing techniques extensively.

Nearly every brand asked followers to like, comment, tag friends and share their posts, ensuring that their product was seen not only by their followers but also by the followers Facebook ‘friends’. Famous sportspersons and teams, such as the All Blacks, were most frequently used to promote products. By using these techniques, brands attract the consumer’s attention, increase their brand loyalty and make them more likely to go and buy their product.23,24 An Australian study similarly found that food brand pages widely used marketing features such as competitions based on user-generated content, interactive games and apps, and that adolescent and young adult Facebook users appeared most receptive to engaging with this content.13

The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a recent report25 recognising that digital marketing amplifies marketing in traditional media, achieving greater ad attention and recall, greater brand awareness and more positive brand attitudes, and greater intent to purchase.25 In addition, social media platforms collect extensive personal data from users to deliver advertising and targeting children and adolescents, without effective regulation to protect children from this practice.25

Researchers do not have access to the same data that marketers have, which makes it difficult to gain insights into real exposure of children and adolescents to advertising on social media. While this study shows that social media is an important medium for New Zealand food marketers to engage with users and adolescents in particular, it is not yet possible to assess exposure of children and adolescents to advertising on social media or compliance of marketers with the new Code. From October 2017 onwards according to the new Code, marketers cannot anymore target any advertisements with occasional foods to adolescents younger than 14 years on social media. New methodologies have to be developed for monitoring social media food marketing, a need clearly recognised in the recent WHO report.25 Further research also needs to investigate food advertising across all media platforms and interactivity between the different media and how food and beverage advertising is perceived by teenagers.

Limitations of this research include that Facebook and YouTube posts were analysed retrospectively, and because some brands delete posts after a certain period of time, we may have missed some posts leading to an underestimation of the volume of posts made by brands. In addition, brands do not post all advertisements on their page or channel as they need to pay to have their posts seen and they can pay Facebook to distribute advertisements on newsfeeds of a wide range of targeted users (including users who do not like the particular brands) instead. For YouTube we only analysed food brand channels, but food brands can pay to advertise in a wide range of other popular non-food YouTube channels. In addition, the likes for the posts made by food brands include all likes, not just New Zealand likes.

Policy implications of this research include ensuring that food brands and companies cannot target children and adolescents on social media with occasional food advertising, informing young people and parents about the harmful effects of unhealthy food marketing and identifying international options to deal with this particular form of food marketing. The World Health Organization, in its recent report,25 encourages governments to acknowledge their duty to protect children online through regulations that extend the protection they offer children offline to online areas.25 The WHO proposes the development of a rights-based framework for the regulation of digital food marketing to children based on the rights to participation and protection accorded to children under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognises the duty of states to protect the rights of children online, including their right to health. Article 13 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control26 calls for Parties to recognise that “a comprehensive ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorship would reduce the consumption of tobacco products” and “to undertake a comprehensive ban of all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship”, including “a comprehensive ban on cross-border advertising, promotion and sponsorship originating from its territory”. Progress has been made by States in committing to eliminate cross-border marketing of tobacco products within the European Union. A similar Framework Convention to Protect and Promote Healthy Diets, as previously proposed,27 could include similar provisions for advertising unhealthy foods to children.

Conclusion

Social media is an important medium for food marketers in New Zealand, and promotional strategies and premium offers are frequently used. Additional methodology needs to be developed to monitor exposure of children and adolescents to such advertisements and to assess compliance of food marketers with the new Advertising Standards Authority self-regulatory Code.

Summary

Posts on Facebook pages of 45 popular packaged food, beverage and fast food company brands over two months and YouTube channels of 15 popular brands over two years were analysed for nutritional quality and use of activities, promotional strategies (eg, cartoons) and premium offers (eg, competitions). Social media is an important medium for food marketers in New Zealand and promotional strategies and premium offers are frequently used.

Abstract

Aim

To analyse extent, nature and potential impact of marketing by food and beverage brands popular in New Zealand on Facebook and YouTube.

Method

Popular food and beverage brands in New Zealand were selected from Socialbakers. Posts on Facebook pages of 45 packaged food, beverage and fast food companies over two months and YouTube channels of 15 companies over two years were analysed for nutritional quality and use of activities, promotional strategies (eg, cartoons) and premium offers (eg, competitions).

Results

The 45 brands selected made 762 Facebook posts during October–November 2016. About 28% of posts were videos and 2/3 (63%) contained at least one occasional (ie, unhealthy) food. Promotional strategies were used in 41% of posts, with a famous sportsperson/team being the most frequently used. Premium offers were used in 34% of posts, with competitions being the most frequently used. It was estimated some posts could potentially reach 10% of New Zealand adolescents. The 15 food brands selected posted about 300 videos on their YouTube channels during 2015–2016. About 84% of videos contained food marketing and 77% of products marketed were occasional. Promotional strategies and premium offers were used in 61% and 24% of videos respectively, and the most common marketing techniques were the same as on Facebook.

Conclusion

Social media is an important medium for food marketers in New Zealand and promotional strategies and premium offers are frequently used. Methodology needs to be developed to monitor actual exposure to such advertisements.

Author Information

Stefanie Vandevijvere, Senior Research Fellow, School of Population Health, The University of Auckland, Auckland; Charlotte Aitken, Summer Student, School of Population Health, The University of Auckland, Auckland; Boyd Swinburn, Professor, School of Population Health, The University of Auckland, Auckland.

Correspondence

Stefanie Vandevijvere, Senior Research Fellow, School of Population Health, The University of Auckland, Auckland.

Correspondence Email

s.vandevijvere@auckland.ac.nz

Competing Interests

All authors report grants from Health Research Council of New Zealand during the conduct of the study.

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