Companies that sell snacks, soda and other high-calorie foods are pouring millions into advertising campaigns that are targeted to Black and Hispanic communities, according to a recent study.
Social scientists have long believed that disproportionately aggressive promotion to minorities of nutritionally-poor foods high in sugar, saturated fat and sodium has resulted in higher obesity rates and other health disparities. Now, in a study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut, the African American Collaborative Obesity Research Network and Salud America has confirmed that link.
The study’s researchers analyzed 26 restaurant, food, and beverage companies, including all companies with $100 million or more in advertising spending in 2013. They examined market research data from Nielsen to identify companies with targeted advertising for minorities, including those who advertised most on Spanish-speaking and Black television networks; rifled through company reports and press releases and plucked out statements about companies’ targeted marketing practices; and examined data for the 267 most-advertised brands.
Just three companies—Coca-Cola, General Mills, and McDonald’s—were forthright about directly targeting Black consumers, according to the analysis. Still, nearly all the companies analyzed placed some advertising on Black-targeted TV networks, spending a total of $161 million that represented 75 percent of all food-related advertising on these networks. More than half spent above $100 million on television advertising targeted toward majority-Black audiences.
Conversely, companies were more outspoken about their targeting of Spanish-speaking consumers and invested more in that niche advertising.
“Statements about targeted marketing primarily focused on the growing and increasingly important Hispanic consumer. Some beverage companies also noted their strategy to reach ‘multicultural’ millennials through sponsorships and events,” the report stated. “In addition, many of the large packaged-food companies maintained Spanish-language versions of their websites, and one fast-food company (McDonald’s) offered separate websites for Black, Hispanic, and Asian American consumers.”
The 26 companies examined spent $675 million in food-related advertising on Spanish-language TV, about four-fifths of all food advertising on this medium. Seven companies, including Post Foods, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Wendy’s, and Kellogg, spent more than 10 percent of their TV advertising budgets on Spanish-language programming. Mars led the pack, however, allocating 23.5 percent of its TV advertising budget on Spanish-language television.
Three brands, 7Up, Kraft Mayonnaise, and Fuze Iced Tea, did not advertise on English-speaking television at all.
Candy and gum/mint brands were especially aggressive in their targeted advertising to both Black and Hispanic consumers. Seventy-eight percent of candy brands surveyed (particularly Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, M&Ms, and Hershey’s) targeted Black consumers, and 31 percent (mostly M&Ms, Snickers, Hershey’s and Twix) targeted Hispanics.
“Candy brands represented 9.4 percent of all TV advertising spending for food-related brands, but this category contributed 13.3 percent of food-related spending on Spanish-language TV and 18.3 percent of spending on Black-targeted TV,” the report read.
Black children and teens saw at least twice as many ads for gum/mints, soda, and other sugary drinks compared with White children and teens and viewed 70 percent more food-related TV ads overall, according to the analysis.