Junk brands targeting children online

Irish Heart says international junk food brands are following children wherever they go through social media and smart phones

The Irish Heart Foundation has launched a new campaign aimed at restricting “relentless” junk food marketing aimed at children.

The Stop Targeting Kids campaign is calling on the government to introduce stricter controls on advertising – particularly online.

The foundation said digital marketing remains unregulated in Ireland – despite clear evidence of the powerful influence it can have on children’s food choices.

The campaign highlights the “unscrupulous” tactics used by multinational junk food and drinks companies to influence children – often without the knowledge of their parents.

“The purpose of our campaign is to show parents how multinational junk brands can follow their children wherever they go – in school, at home and even in their bedrooms through their smart phones,” said Irish Heart’s head of advocacy Chris Macey. “It’s almost like your child has their own individual marketer following them around.”

Friends online

He said parents of often completely unaware of how junk brand marketing campaigns can get onto children’s social media news feeds and interact with them like they are friends.

“All these marketers really want to do is encourage children to consume as much junk as possible, regardless of the impact on their health,” he said.

He said there is conclusive proof of the link between junk food marketing that targets children and childhood obesity – with advertising regulation that was brought in for broadcast media in recent years never extended online.

He said digital marketing is “more personalised, targeted and therefore potentially far more damaging.”

Personal information

A recent Irish Heart study highlighted how multinational junk brands can gain access to huge amounts of personal information about individual children online and use it to target them directly with “powerful engagement, emotional and entertainment based tactics.”

It found that using hi-tech analytics brands can identify children who are most reactive to food and drink marketing and target them in a more individualised way online than they ever could through television advertising.

“One in four children in Ireland is overweight or obese,” said Irish Heart dietician Janis Morrissey. “It is a daily struggle and a minefield for parents trying to navigate an environment with widespread availability and constant marketing of cheap and convenient foods.”

“The brands become part of children’s social lives and they even get children to act as marketers for them by tagging their friends in to ads, and posting messages and pictures of themselves.

“We owe it to children to step in because it is not okay for multinational companies to seek them out and follow their lives in order to push high sugar, high fat or high salt foods.”

The campaign hopes to sign up 30,000 supporters to back its call for government intervention to block brands from targeting children.