- Fast food, candy, sugary drink and unhealthy snack brands comprised 86% of food ad spending on TV programming, where black consumers make up a majority of audiences, and 82% on Spanish-language TV in 2017, according to new research from the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Drexel University's Council on Black Health and Salud America! at the University of Texas Heath San Antonio.
- Black teens saw more than twice as many ads for unhealthy products compared to white teens in 2017. Black children and teens saw an average of more than 16 food-related ads per day compared to 8.8 for white children and 7.8 for white teens. Black children and teens viewed 79% more food ads than their white peers in 2013, a number that increased to 86% more for black children and 119% more for black teens.
- Candy brands disproportionately advertised to Hispanic and black youth, representing nearly 20% of food-related TV ads viewed by Hispanic children and teens on Spanish-language TV. Black children and teens viewed about 2.5-times more candy ads than their white peers. Mars, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola had the most brands targeting all youth and black and Hispanic consumers of all ages. Fast food brands made up about a half of all food-related TV advertising in 2017, reaching nearly $4 billion, including advertising on black-targeted and Spanish-language TV programming.
While marketers are mostly pulling back their ad spend on traditional formats, like TV, the new report, which analyzed advertising by 32 major food brands, found that the companies spent nearly $11 billion on TV ads in 2017, including $1.1 billion on ads targeting black and Hispanic youth. Food companies also increased their spending on black-targeted TV by more than 50% from 2013 to 2017, while their total ad spend on TV dropped 4%.
In contrast, ads for healthier products, like juice, water, fruit and nuts, made up $195 million on all TV programming, representing 3% of overall ad spend. Brands were much less likely to advertise these products to black consumers, with just 1% of ad spending on black-targeted TV. The brands weren't advertised at all on Spanish-language TV.
The research suggests that healthy food brands are missing important opportunities to engage with black and Hispanic audiences, while other brands may be contributing to unhealthy lifestyle habits in black and Hispanic communities. At a time when consumers are expecting brands to be more socially conscious and take a public stance on social and political issues and demanding more transparency in advertising, brands may be encouraged to take more responsibility for the audiences that they target with unhealthy foods.
Hershey Co. was the only major advertiser in the study to reduce spending targeting black consumers, AdAge reports. A company spokesman said that the company does not purchase TV media based on "ethnic targeting" and buys spots on programs and outlets that reach broad adult audiences.
While consumer packaged goods brands have struggled to connect with U.S. consumers, ads targeting youth and minorities have been scrutinized as contributing to the growing rates of obesity, according to AdAge. Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign in 2010 cited food and beverage companies as "key actors" in preventing obesity, for example.
Obesity rates are higher among black and Hispanic youth compared to their white and Asian peers. About 26% of Hispanic youth and 22% of black youth are considered obese, compared to 14% of whites and 11% of Asians, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data cited by CNN.