New FTC Report on Food Marketing: Digital Dollars Targeting Kids and Teens

The report (link is external)released today by the Federal Trade Commission analyzing expenditures by food and beverage marketers to target both children and teens shows a dramatic increase in the use of digital marketing. According to the report, “spending on new media, such as online, mobile, and viral marketing, increased by 50%.” The report also underscored how young people are the target of “integrated” campaigns, pursued across the “4 Screens (link is external)” which marketers now regulary use. Kids are being prompted to “pester” their parents to buy these products, according to industry research uncovered by the Commission.

Digital marketing is a powerful medium which utilizes far-reaching tactics designed to promote brands and sell products. The “360 degree” marketing apparatus ensures that even young consumers can be tracked and reached wherever they are—at home, in school, on the street and in stores. Online ads can be bought cheaply—and deliver bigger results than other forms of advertising (think social media viral campaigns where you get so-called friends to promote products to friends).

The nation’s youth obesity epidemic illustrates that more is needed than just a report. The FTC should convene stakeholders to develop a set of Fair Digital Marketing Practices for Children and Teens. Many of the techniques used by food and beverage marketers and media companies—such as neuromarketing (link is external), peer to peer viral campaigns, and location-based targeting—are not appropriate for youth. Industry will need to take more responsibility. Policymakers, especially the FTC, will need to dig further into how food marketers use digital techniques on America’s young people. Regulation is required.

Jeff Chester, CDD