Digital Junk: Marketing of Food and Beverages on Facebook

Research Question

What is the amount, reach and nature of energy dense, nutrient poor food on Facebook?

Methods

Content analysis of the marketing techniques used by the 27 most popular food and beverages brand Facebook pages in Australia. Content was coded across 19 marketing categories and collected data from an average of 3.65 years of activity per page.

Results

  • ŸMajority of posts across all the pages were of photographs
  • On average, page administrators made a total of 18 original posts during the 1-month period, of which 13 (72%) were classified as photographs.
  • All page posts attracted likes, shares, and comments from page members.
  • Monster Energy had the highest total number of likes for its posts across the 1-month period with 1,281,868 total likes, and Subway had the highest average number of likes per post with 23,569 likes.
  • Given that a significant portion of Facebook users log in daily, it is unsurprising that popular pages have high levels of activity.
  • Consumers not only willingly engage with brands, they also create free word-of-mouth content that marketers have minimal control over
  • Users require very little incentive to openly interact with unhealthy food brands
  • Increasing the visibility of users on social media among their peers—or fellow consumers—is a distinctive social media marketing tactic
  • Very high popularity of the sugar-sweetened soda and energy drink pages

Discussion

The above results have public health practice implications. Young adults appear to be a highly desirable target population for unhealthy food marketing, and limited research, resources, and policy action have been directed at this age group. If people are engaging with Facebook content because it makes them feel good, it may mean that certain modes of health promotion messages that are highly effective in other forms of media will not work on social media.

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