Monday, May 13, 2013

Food Marketing and Social Media: Yoda’s wisdom in the land of Facebook

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When you look at the dark side, careful you must be...for the dark side looks back.” -Yoda

It always happens: the moment you decide to start being a healthier version of yourself, a mouth-watering ad for junk food pops up on your TV, and it’s downhill from there. We hear all of this talk about simply removing the temptation, but how feasible is it to go without TV or the Internet in order to escape the ads? Though we know we are being targeted, we hope for the best anyway. New research demonstrates that we might not be as immune as we think. The more that adults are exposed to junk food ads, the greater the chance of coming to view the consumption of these foods as normal. When it comes to social media though, listen to Yoda and stop looking at the dark side!

Two years ago, we posted a blog story about marketing junk food to kids.  Though some networks and brands have adopted new standards on advertising during children’s television programming, these same standards do not apply online, making Facebook—the largest social media network—prime territory for unhealthy messages. Marketing unhealthy foods on Facebook is still an emerging marketing strategy; the numbers are fuzzy but companies know they work.  Just check out how many "Likes" and comments were received by this post from McDonald's:

Recent research shows that each Facebook “Like” is worth $174.17 to a brand. Did you know that Coca-Cola’s Facebook page has over 64 million “Likes”? That translates to more than $11.2 billion in brand value! And not surprisingly, most of what they post is just advertising for Coca-Cola products. When an individual “Likes” one of Coca-Cola’s posts, all of that individual’s Facebook friends are able to see the post from Coca-Cola, essentially providing the company with free advertising and personal endorsements.

Kids and adults alike are surrounded by the traditional forms of unhealthy ads but now we have to think about what we see in their newsfeeds, as well. This is the new age of junk food marketing.

Unlike traditional marketing though, Facebook puts tools in our hands to control the ads we see (at least those in our news feed). Namely, the ability to choose which companies or organizations we "Like" on Facebook. This gives us an equal playing field to propagate healthy messages. However, you cannot see the healthy messages unless you “Like” the groups that are putting them out. By following the pages of these health-minded organizations, you could be helping to get healthy messages out into the world and leveling the playing field just a little bit.

At the Center for Healthy Living, we do our best to post the very latest and most interesting health news, healthy recipes, tips and tricks, as well as events and initiatives in which you might be interested in getting involved. Other groups, like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign also promote and help to propogate these types of healthy messages. Now compare the unhealthy messages from McDonald's and Coca-Cola with messages like these:

Take a stand! Become a health activist! Dump the unhealthy pages and start sharing healthy messages with your friends and family on Facebook by liking pages that provide messages you actually want to see. Encourage them to do the same. Facebook makes it simple to have these messages pop up on friends’ news feeds: You can “Like” a post or share it to a friend’s timeline. Get involved with your news feed! Let organizations know what you want to see, and show support for organizations by “Liking” their healthy messages. Most importantly, do not “Like” the pages that would tempt you to eat unhealthy foods, and see if it makes a difference for you. Do you honestly need a Facebook ad telling about Taco Bell's Doritos Locos taco? Are you experiencing a shortage of Coca-Cola ads? On average, preschoolers are exposed to 1,000 fast food ads a year. What a difference it would make for you and your kids if they were exposed to more healthy messages!

Do some research to determine what type of messages you would like to see, then find the groups propagating these messages. Help to level the playing field in food marketing by using your Facebook profile as a tool to increase healthy messages in your life. You can start here:

Written by
Rachel Pauley, MPH

[Yoda image source:]