There’s some jarring new research out about how far fast food companies will go in order to reach their target audiences. Data from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut just revealed how racist there's brands' marketing techniques can be. Within the drastic increase in spending that the fast food industry has funneled into ad sales and marketing — around $5 billion in 2019 — a large chunk of change is spent targeting Black and Latinx youth. And this is a demographic who have been found to be at higher risk for obesity, as well as other diet-related diseases.
While the researchers don’t name names, they looked at Nielsen’s data from 2019, which revealed “advertising exposure for 274 fast-food restaurants, including detailed analyses of the 27 top fast-food advertisers with the highest annual advertising spending and/or that targeted TV advertising to children, Hispanic, and/or Black consumers.”
We all know and accept that marketing departments are trained to target specific groups of people, but this is yet another example of how ads are used to manipulate and tarnish the wellbeing of already vulnerable populations. This type of advertising can be compared to that of evil tobacco companies we love to hate.
Even worse, there’s evidence that these “disparities in racial and ethnic targeted advertising” are increasing. According to a Eurekalert report about the research, television programming that is targeted towards both Black and Spanish-speaking households are more likely to showcase advertisements of a restaurant’s “low-cost large-portion value menu items and meal deals.”
In other words, these commercials for cheeseburgers and fried foods are intentionally being embedded into programming that advertisers know Black and brown kids will be watching. This is especially harmful, considering many of the communities these young people belong to have less access to healthcare and transportation.
Since 2012, these predatory marketing practices for Spanish-language television have increased around 33 percent, and Black youth were shown to have viewed 75 percent more fast-food related ads than their white counterparts, despite youth television viewership having decreased across the board.
And it’s clearly effective. Young people process these commercials and are encouraged to go buy food thats high in sodium, fat, and sugar. Look, fast food is delicious and we don’t body shame here, but pushing an unbalanced diet (disproportionately!) on young people of color is clearly unethical.
So now that the data’s here, what are we doing about it? The researchers have given their recommendations to fast food restaurants about how limiting and adjust their marketing techniques, as well as suggested restricting “advertising to children up to age 14 at a minimum, discontinuing ads for regular menu items on children's TV channels and ending disproportionately high marketing to Hispanic and Black youth,” according to Eurekalert. Let’s see if anyone pays heed.