Background: Limitations in current Australian regulatory provisions may be identified by demonstrating the effect of different marketing methods on children’s recognition and attitudes toward unhealthy food brands.
Objective: To investigate how exposure to different marketing techniques from television (TV) and online food advertising affects children’s brand recall, recognition, and attitudinal responses toward brands and brand consumers and children’s desire to eat the advertised products.
Design: Secondary analysis of data from a crossover experimental-control study.
Participants/setting: In all, 154 children (7 to 12 years) completed the study, conducted at four 6-day holiday camps from April 2016 to January 2017 in New South Wales, Australia. Children were assigned to a single-media (n=76) or multiple-media (n=78) condition.
Intervention: All children viewed 10 TV food advertisements in a cartoon on three occasions. For one of the brands, one set of children additionally played online “advergames” featuring the brand.
Main outcome measures: Children’s recognition and attitudes toward brands and brand consumers and children’s desire to eat the product were reported via a brand recognition and attitude survey pre- and postintervention. Marketing techniques were categorized.
Statistical analysis: Pre- and postintervention brand recognition and relationships between brand recognition and attitudes by media condition and desire to eat the product were examined using generalized linear mixed models and linear mixed models.
Results: There was a significant increase in the number of brands recognized postexposure by children in both media groups (mean difference=3.8, P<0.0001). The majority of brands appealed to children. Children who reported wanting to eat the advertised products rated brands more positively than children who did not express a desire to eat the products. A larger proportion of children who played the advergames (36%) rated brand consumers as “cool” than children who viewed the TV advertisements only (19%) (P<0.001). Anti-adult themes, fun and humor, and parent pleasing were techniques unique to some of the most recognized and favored advertisements.
Conclusions: The marketing communications increased children’s brand recognition and elicited positive attitudinal responses. These findings indicate a need for policy makers to consider additional regulations to protect children from the persuasive influence of unhealthy food advertising.