In 2014 the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) commissioned an independent literature review into existing research on the issue of online marketing of food and drink to children. The consultancy given the task, Family Kids and Youth (FK&Y), have now published their findings on the subject, with CAP also publishing their own summary of the literature review and the next steps CAP intends to take.

The key conclusion from the review is that more research needs to be conducted on a number of the issues discussed before a definitive position can be determined on the issue.  

What types of online marketing were covered?

A number of different online marketing platforms were discussed in the review, namely:

  • content on websites;
  • content made available via social networking;
  • "advergames";
  • peer-to-peer marketing; and
  • mobile marketing

The report goes into most detail when discussing the impact of food and drink advertised through "advergames", reflecting the concerns that CAP amongst others has on this issue.

The review notes that advergames are highly  popular with children and on the whole they are believed to be an extremely effective advertising tool. Crucially there is currently a lack of evidence to show a causal link between children playing advergames and the consumption of  a particular brand of food and drink, let alone specific unhealthy products.

The research discussed did however show that after playing an advergame, there was evidence to suggest children may increase their consumption of certain types of food, but not a specific brand, for example high-energy snacks instead of the specific snack featured in a game.

What conclusions can be drawn?

What is clear from the literature review, is that food products being marketed to children online are not falling in line with a recommended healthy diet. Much like television advertising, this means children's attitudes and food choices are being influenced towards 'unhealthy' foods instead of healthier options.

However, the report acknowledges that the definition of 'unhealthy'  food differs between regulators,  food and drink manufacturers and public health officials. This makes the monitoring of compliance with the regulations increasingly difficult. The literature in the report notes that a uniform approach to nutritional definitions would significantly improve the monitoring of food and drink advertising. 

Although the material reviewed by FK&Y has been produced for or by critics of online food and drink marketing, it has nevertheless prompted CAP to undertake further investigations into the issue with the aim of providing guidance for advertisers by the Autumn of 2015. Before this guidance is published, CAP will issue interim advice to advertisers via the AdviceOnline database.

A copy of the FK&Y literature review  and CAP's response are available here.