Branding and cartoon character usage in food marketing to children : the South African picture
Delport, Janlie Elzabe
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Background Worldwide, including in South Africa, it is a well-known fact that there is a rising prevalence of overweight and obesity contributing to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in children. In South Africa, the prevalence of overweight in children (2-14 years) amounts to 16.5% in girls and 7.1% in boys, with obesity contributing to a further 11.5% in girls and 4.7% in boys. Research has indicated that marketing practices aimed at children mainly promote foods and non-alcoholic beverages that are high in fat, sugar and/ or salt (HFSS). This may have an effect on children’s nutritional knowledge, food choices, purchasing and dietary behaviours, and in the end it can contribute to overweight. It has been indicated that marketing, using cartoon characters and branding, has increased the loyalty and product choice in children. To date, there is limited data on the use of cartoon characters and branding in advertisements and on food packaging marketed to children in South Africa. This lack of data creates a challenge for the development of policies regarding advertisements of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. Therefore, the main aim of this study was to describe the frequency of advertising to children, the usage of branding and cartoon characters in the marketing of food and non-alcoholic beverages to children aged 3 to 18 years in South Africa and to use the obtained results as baseline information in policy development. Objectives The objectives of this mini-dissertation include: firstly to determine the frequency and type of food products advertised to children on South African free-to-air television (TV) channels; secondly, to determine the amount of breakfast cereal products aimed at children in the three main supermarkets in Potchefstroom; and lastly to describe branding and cartoon character usage in advertisements and on breakfast cereal packaging in the three main supermarkets in Potchefstroom, North West, South Africa and on the four free-to-air TV channels in South Africa. Methods In this observational study, the four free-to-air TV channels in South Africa were recorded from a Monday to a Thursday and one Saturday from 6:00 to 22:00 during the last week of the month. Recordings were made for the months of April, June, September and November of the year 2014. All recordings were watched and screened for food advertisements aimed at children. For the investigation of breakfast cereal products, the largest supermarkets in Potchefstroom, South Africa, were visited and information on breakfast cereal packaging aimed at children was accumulated. Cartoon characters and branding as marketing techniques aimed at children were then illustrated so that it can be used as baseline information for policy development. Results A total of 4916 advertisements were shown on the free-to-air TV channels of which 1030 (21%) were food advertisements. Food advertisements aimed at children used techniques such as children in the advertisement, broadcasting in the time of children’s programmes, and/ or using cartoon characters in the advertisements. The food advertisements aimed at children mostly included products such as sweets, confectionary, snack foods, sugared beverages, pre-sugared breakfast cereals, and sweetened milk and dairy products. Healthy food advertisements accounted for the minority (1.4%) of food advertisements. A total of 131 breakfast cereal products were marketed to children. Persuasive techniques on the breakfast cereal packaging included the use of cartoon characters (52%), children featuring on the packaging (44%), games (15%), collectable items (9%), and competitions (6%). It was also observed that breakfast cereal products aimed at children were placed on the lower shelves in supermarkets and cartoon characters looked downwards in order to make eye-contact with children consumers. Conclusion Even though certain companies have signed a pledge prohibiting them to market unhealthy foods to children, some of the food industries still targets children with less healthy food advertisements. Although advertising is not the only contributing factor leading to obesity in children, it is considered to be one of many factors contributing to overweight in children. Therefore, it is necessary for the food industry to engage in responsible food marketing aimed at children in order to take one step forward in the prevention of overweight, obesity and NCDs in children.
- Health Sciences