While there is a recognized link between high levels of exposure to advertising of unhealthy foods and overweight and obesity among children, there is little research on the extent to which these exposures include persuasive marketing techniques. This study aimed to measure children’s exposure to the use of persuasive marketing within television food advertisements. Advertisements broadcast on all three commercial Australian television channels were recorded for an equivalent 1 week period in May 2006 and 2007 (714 h). Food advertisements were analysed for their use of persuasive marketing, including premium offers, such as competitions, and the use of promotional characters, including celebrities and cartoon characters. Advertised foods were categorized as core, non-core or miscellaneous foods.
Commercial data were purchased to determine children’s peak viewing times and popular programs.
A total of 20 201 advertisements were recorded, 25.5% of which were for food. Significantly more food advertisements broadcast during children’s peak viewing times, compared to non-peak times, contained promotional characters (P, 0.05) and premium offers (P, 0.001). During programs most popular with children, there were 3.3 non-core food advertisements per hour containing premium offers, compared to 0.2 per hour during programs most popular with adults. The majority of advertisements containing persuasive marketing during all viewing periods were for non-core foods. Persuasive marketing techniques are frequently used to advertise non-core foods to children, to promote children’s brand recognition and preference for advertised products. Future debate relating to television advertising regulations must consider the need to restrict the use of persuasive marketing techniques to children.