NEWS26 October 2011

Obesity group wants marketers to stop tracking teens

North America Trends Youth

US— Childhood obesity action group NPlan has raised concerns over marketers use of social media monitoring and neuromarketing techniques to develop campaigns to target junk foods at children and teens.

A report by Kathryn Montgomery and Jeff Chester complained that marketing practices such as “creating immersive environments, infiltrating social networks, location-based and mobile marketing, collecting personal data and studying and triggering the subconscious” were part of an industry that “represents a direct threat to the health prospects of the next generation”.

The report, which can be found here, calls for marketers to stop “social media surveillance of children and teens” and to stop using kids as online brand ambassadors and giving them incentives to promote “unhealthy food and beverages” to their peers.

Montgomery and Chester highlighted conversation mining, conversation targeting, word-of-mouth analytics and buzz monitoring as “troubling” practices that raise “serious concerns when used to target children and teens, many of whom are living their lives in these new online spaces, unaware of how their interactions with friends are being closely monitored by marketers”.

Neuromarketing also “warrants especially close scrutiny” when used in creating campaigns for unhealthy foods, the report says.

“The direct goal of neuromarketing is to circumvent rational decision making, which is especially troubling when used to market unhealthy foods,” write Montgomery and Chester. “While advertisers have a long tradition of practices designed to tap into unconscious processes, neuromarketing constitutes a significant leap into disturbing new territory.”

They added: “New digital marketing tactics are emerging and advancing rapidly, and it is crucial to begin establishing standards and policies to protect the health of future generations. With new techniques for data collection, monitoring, profiling, and targeting rolled out almost daily, we have an urgent responsibility — and only a brief opportunity — to intervene.”