Aim: Persuasive marketing techniques, such as promotional characters, influence children's food preferences and requests for foods. The aim of this research was to describe the techniques used to market unhealthy foods and beverages to children on Sydney free-to-air television.
Methods: Marketing techniques designed to appeal to children were identified from international literature and summarised into a systematic coding tool. Using this tool, the marketing techniques used in a random sample of 100 unique food advertisements, broadcasted on Sydney free-to-air television, were coded. Frequency of marketing techniques was analysed overall and for use in advertisements marketing unhealthy foods, emotionally or verbally appealing to parents, or featuring child actors.
Results: Advertisers' use of persuasive techniques generally did not differ by type of food advertised. Marketing techniques with greater prominence in unhealthy food advertising were palatability (54% of unhealthy food advertisements), convenience (52%), fantasy/imagination (28%), fun/happiness (17%) and cartoon characters (9%). Advertisements emotionally appealing to parents (24%) were significantly more likely to make general health or nutrition statements (38% vs. 17%), and appealed to children concurrently through fun/happiness and fantasy/imagination appeals. Children were depicted in advertisements as eating with friends or family, situated within the home and frequently snacking on less healthy foods.
Conclusions: Food and beverage advertisers use a range of visual, audio and emotive techniques to appeal to children and their parents that do not discriminate by the type of food advertised. The range and complexity of these techniques complicate the restriction of their use in food advertising to children.