Unhealthy food and beverage brands are encouraging TikTok users to market their products for them

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Unhealthy food and beverage brands are encouraging TikTok users to market their products for them—effectively turning them into “brand ambassadors”—as well as using their own accounts for promotional activity, finds an assessment of video content posted on the social media platform and published in the open access journal BMJ Global Health.

The popularity of TikTok among children makes it imperative that policies are put in place to protect them from the negative effects of social media marketing.

Children are exposed to a vast amount of unhealthy food—high in salt, sugar, and fat—marketing online, say the researchers. This exposure can have a significant impact on food preferences, purchasing habits, requests, and consumption, according to evidence.

TikTok users can create, watch, comment, and engage with short videos. TikTok has seen rapid growth in popularity since its global release. Its monthly active users have reportedly risen from 55 million in Jan 2018 to one Billion in September 2021.

It is very popular among children: According to reports, more than a third (33%) of its daily users in America are 14 years old or younger.

However, no study has been done to examine the impact of unhealthy food advertising on TikTok. This is despite the fact that TikTok users are often urged to pay more attention to their health.

In a bid to plug this knowledge gap, the researchers assessed the content of all videos posted on the accounts of 16 leading food and non-alcoholic beverage brands—based on global brand share as of 30 June 2021.

Also, the content and sentiment of a selection of relevant user generated content, created in response branded hashtag challenges initiated by these brands was assessed.

There were 539 videos posted to the 16 included accounts. 3% (17) was posted in 2019, 37% (198) was posted in 2020, and 60% (3244) in the first 6 month of 2021. Four accounts hadn’t posted any videos.

The number of followers for the included accounts varied from 14 to 1.6 millions. Videos received an average of 63.400 views, 5829 Likes, 157 Comments, and 36 Shares per video.

Branding (87% of videos), product imagery (85%), engagement (31%), celebrities/influencers (25%), were the most popular marketing strategies.

Engagement was achieved through the instigation and execution of branded hashtag challenges, which encouraged creation of user-generated content featuring brand products, videos, or branded effects such as stickers, filters, special effects featuring branding, and/or brand effects.

The total number of views combined from user-generated content for single challenges varied from 12.7million to 107.9 million. A sample of 626 brand-relevant videos were generated in response to these challenges. 96% featured branding, 68% had product images, and 41% used branded effects.

Most expressed a positive (73%) to neutral/unclear (20%) sentiment, while only a few expressed a negative (3%) emotion.

This is an observational study and cannot prove causality. Researchers acknowledge that the sampled user generated content was not representative of a branded hashtag contest. They were also unable to measure children’s exposure to brand promotional activities and user-generated material.

But they note, “Brand activity has rapidly increased—with most videos posted in the 6 months preceding data collection—and includes instigation of branded hashtag challenges that encourage user-generated content featuring brand products, brand-supplied videos or branded effects.

“Analysis of brand-relevant user-generated material created in response to these challenges showed that branded hashtags are effectively turning users into, TikTok’s words: ‘unofficial brand ambassadors’.”

Although there were fewer videos posted by users who appear to have been paid (influencers), they attracted almost 10 times more likes per video than those who seem not to have been paid. They also pointed out that these videos are likely to be important in spreading branded hashtag challenges.

“The significant reach of influencer advertising is concerning, given that exposure to influencer-marketing of unhealthy foods has shown to increase energy intake (from poor foods overall),” they write.

They also highlighted that the proposed UK legislation would ban all “paid to” online marketing of “less healthful food and drinks starting in January 2023. However, it does allow for brand-only marketing and excludes marketing that originates outside of the UK. This despite the fact social networking platforms are often used across international borders.

They conclude that TikTok is an emerging source for unhealthy food marketing, including that created at the instigation brands. Due to TikTok’s popularity with children, our findings support the necessity for policies that protect them from the harmful effects on food marketing via social networking platforms.

“TikTok’s popularity is a reason to continue research into its potential effects on public health and its role in corporate politics.”

Three quarters of social media posts by influencers about food and drink are for unhealthy products

More information:
TikTok’s marketing campaign for unhealthy food and nonalcoholic beverages turns users into ‘unofficial brand ambassadors. BMJ Global Health (2022). DOI: 10.1136/bmjgh-2022-009112

Provided by
British Medical Journal

TikTok users are being encouraged to market their products to unhealthy food and beverage brands (2022, July 25).
Retrieved 2 Aug 2022

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Source: medical xpress.

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