Digital Marketing Promoting Unhealthy Food and Drinks to Children

YouTube kid influencers are marketing junk food from McDonald’s, Coke, and others to children, reported MarketWatch (Oct. 27).

In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers analyzed 418 YouTube videos from the five most-watched kid influencers on the platform in 2019 and found that of the 179 videos that featured food or drinks, about 90% promoted unhealthy branded items like fast food. The videos were collectively viewed by over 1 billion people, generating 2.6 million likes in total.

“It really was unhealthy brands by a landslide, and that was the most shocking part,” said Marie Bragg, an author of the study and assistant professor of public health nutrition at New York University’s School of Global Public Health and Langone Medical Center.

The highest-paid YouTube influencer of 2019 was then 8-year-old Ryan Kaji of Ryan’s World, who earned a whopping $26 million in advertisements, sponsored posts, and product placements, according to the study. In one of Ryan’s videos, which received 46 million views, he wears a hat with a McDonald’s logo pretending to be a cashier and making cheeseburgers.

Research suggests that young children are especially susceptible to marketing, especially when it comes to influencers.

“Children are a special audience,” said Michael Robb, senior director of research at Common Sense Media. “There are specific cognitive limitations that children have that make it difficult for kids younger than seven to really understand the intention of advertisers.”

McDonald’s is no stranger to influencer marketing. The chain has recently been releasing meals under celebrity names such as musical artists Travis Scott and J. Balvin, reported Forbes (Oct. 6).

During McDonald’s second quarter earnings call in July, CEO Chris Kempczinski noted the company had “amassed a sizable marketing war chest” for the latter part of 2020.  According to Wells Fargo, the Travis Scott Meal helped the brand “connect with an audience that’s been a weak spot over the past 20 years,” meaning specifically consumers ages 11 to 24.

The study found McDonald’s accounted for the highest number of product placements and that Ferrero USA’s Kinder and Coca-Cola were also frequently featured.

“The Coca-Cola Company is committed to responsible marketing, and we do not market directly to children under 12,” according to a statement from the company.  “Specifically, we do not buy advertising targeted at audiences that are more than 35% of children under 12. This includes marketing across television, radio, print, the internet, and mobile phones.  We also do not hire child influencers.”

Coca-Cola recently revealed it is shifting money from traditional marketing to digital platforms, expecting the change to support growth of its beverage portfolio, reported San Francisco Chronicle (Oct. 27). The company is taking down the glowing Coca-Cola sign that has stood in San Francisco for over 80 years to better focus on advertising through its media platforms.