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J Adolesc Health. 2009 Sep;45(3 Suppl):S18-29. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.04.006. Epub 2009 Jun 21.

Interactive food and beverage marketing: targeting adolescents in the digital age.

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1
School of Communication, American University, Washington, DC 20016, USA. kcm@american.edu

Abstract

Because of their avid use of new media and their increased spending power, adolescents have become primary targets of a new "Media and Marketing Ecosystem." Digital media resonate particularly well with many of the fundamental developmental tasks of adolescence by enabling instantaneous and constant contact with peers, providing opportunities for self-expression, identity exploration, and social interaction, and facilitating mobility and independence. Six key features of interactive media--ubiquitous connectivity, personalization, peer-to-peer networking, engagement, immersion, and content creation--are emblematic of the ways in which young people are both shaping and being shaped by this new digital culture. The advertising industry, in many instances led by food and beverage marketers, is purposefully exploiting the special relationship that teenagers have with new media, with online marketing campaigns that create unprecedented intimacies between adolescents and the brands and products that now literally surround them. Major food and beverage companies, including Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), have incorporated these elements into their interactive marketing strategies, posing particular risks to adolescents, who are not being addressed in the current U.S. policy and self-regulatory regimens. However, recent and emerging neuroscience and psychological research on adolescents suggests a need to revisit the traditional approach to regulation of advertising. Despite the growth of interactive marketing, academic research on the impact of digital advertising on children and youth remains underdeveloped. Additional research and policy initiatives are needed to address the growing health threat facing youth in the digital marketplace.

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