Theoretical Background and research questions/hypothesis: Public health experts raise concerns that unhealthy food marketing targeted to communities of color contributes to health disparities. Black and Hispanic youth tend to consume more nutritionally poor foods and view more advertising overall, and they also are exposed to more marketing in their communities, primarily for unhealthy products. This research examined TV food advertising targeted specifically to Black and Latino youth, the products promoted in these ads, and companies’ statements about their targeted marketing practices.
Methods: We examined the 25 restaurant, food and beverage companies with the highest advertising spending in 2013 to identify targeted marketing. Systematic searches of marketing trade press, annual reports, and press releases from 2012 to 2014 identified companies’ statements about their targeted marketing practices. Syndicated market research data from Nielsen quantified media spending by brand, including advertising spending on Spanish-language and black-targeted TV channels, as well as exposure to TV advertising by Black, Latino and all children and adolescents.
Results: Companies rarely publicize their marketing strategies, but they often made public statements about their focus on the growing and increasingly important Hispanic consumer. Beverage companies also noted their strategy to reach “multicultural” millennials through sponsorships and events. In contrast, just three companies spoke publicly about targeted marketing to Black consumers. However, the Nielsen data identified many brands that appeared to target Black, as well as Hispanic, consumers. Of the 300 most-advertised brands from the 25 companies in our analysis, 155 (52%) advertised on black-targeted TV, while 92 (31%) advertised on Spanish-language TV. On average, targeted brands dedicated 12.6% of TV advertising budgets to Spanish-language TV and 2.5% to black-targeted TV. Fast-food restaurants spent the most on advertising in targeted media, while candy, sugary drinks and sweet and salty snack brands dedicated the highest proportion of their advertising to these media. Much of this targeted marketing for nutritionally poor products was aimed at youth audiences. Some healthier brands also advertised on Spanish-language and black-targeted channels, including low-sugar cereals, 100% juices, and one frozen vegetable brand. However, targeted campaigns for healthier brands tended to receive fewer advertising dollars and appeared intended primarily for adults, rather than children or teens.
Conclusions: In evaluating companies’ targeted marketing practices, it is important to recognize that food and beverage marketing designed to appeal directly to Hispanic and Black consumers is not necessarily problematic. However, this research demonstrates that the majority of advertising targeted to minority youth promotes nutritionally poor products with high levels of sugar, saturated fat and/or sodium. Notably, despite the high incidence of brands with advertising targeted to Black youth, companies rarely publicly discussed this practice.
Implications for research and/or practice: This research confirms public health concerns about food and beverage marketing targeted to communities of color, especially advertising to Black youth. It also supports the need to develop local grassroots advocacy and policy actions to reduce unhealthy food marketing and support parents’ efforts to raise healthy children.