23 May 2017 Guest Blog: Junk brands get onto children’s newfeeds and interact like real life friends
Helena O’Donnell is Project Manager of Irish Heart’s advocacy campaign Stop Targeting Kids. Irish Heart works to influence government policy to improve outcomes for people at risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Irish Heart is concerned for Ireland’s serious childhood obesity rates and seeks to prevent the inappropriate access of junk food and drinks brands to children online and in media channels through its lobbying efforts.
Junk brands have achieved a wholly inappropriate proximity to children – pestering them relentlessly in school, at home and even in their bedrooms, mostly through their smart phones. Brands get onto children and teenagers social newsfeeds and interact just like real friends, effectively becoming part of children’s social lives. They’re even made into marketers themselves by tagging friends in ads.
All this is delivered by happy and colourful brand characters designed to be attractive to children. But behind the goofy smile there’s a real stranger, a junk food marketer who doesn’t care about your child. They just want to get them to eat as much junk as possible.
You might think this is over-dramatic. That’s the initial view of many parents who’ve taken part in research into online junk food marketing to children. But when parents discover the subtle tactics employed against children by some of the best marketing brains in the world, they quickly change their tune.
Most people are shocked to learn how much junk food marketers know about children, the huge amounts of personal information extracted from them by digital platforms like Facebook: who they are, where they live, where they go, what their hobbies are, who their friends are and much more.
We know children spend on average three hours a day online while one in four children in Ireland is now overweight or obese. It’s 14 years since the link between junk food marketing and childhood obesity was proved. The evidence is so overwhelming that junk adverts on Irish television were restricted in 2013. But there’s still no regulation of digital marketing that’s more personalised, effective and therefore potentially even more damaging.
Sadly we now have children as young as eight with high blood pressure and teenagers showing early signs of heart disease once seen mainly in middle age and while junk brands aren’t solely responsible, there is far too much talk of parental responsibility. The pester power parents are subjected to is largely generated by brands pestering children.
Multinational brands’ deep pockets have changed people’s notion of what constitutes a normal diet, effectively standing the food pyramid on its head by advertising as if their products were for everyday use; when they should be consumed in small amounts.
We know this is fuelling obesity, we know obesity is damaging children and we know government is failing in its duty of care to protect children’s health.
It’s time to take back some power. If you want to help us take a stand against the menace of junk food and drinks marketing, sign the Stop Targeting Kids petition on www.irishheart.ie/stoptargetingkids and help us enlist public support by sharing widely with your contacts.