Fast food giant focuses on children in lower-middle-income countries with kid-friendly marketing

Fast food giant McDonald’s appears to be focusing on children in lower-middle-income countries, with more Instagram posts, price promotions and kid-friendly marketing than is evident in richer countries , reveals an analysis of the company’s social media marketing in 15 countries and published in the open access journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health.

These tactics may exacerbate existing health problems in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries, say the researchers, who note the contrast to the health-promoting themes the company is rolling out for its social media marketing in countries. higher income.

Social media advertising by fast food companies continues to increase globally, but although McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast food company, operates in 101 countries, relatively little is known about its techniques. marketing on different continents, according to the researchers.

In an effort to fill this knowledge gap, they analyzed the company’s posts on one of the world’s most popular social media platforms, Instagram, in 15 high, upper middle and lower income countries, such as defined by the World Bank.

The 15 countries where McDonald’s has restaurants were: United States, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Portugal and Panama (high income); Romania, Lebanon, Malaysia, Brazil and South Africa (upper middle income); Indonesia, Egypt and India (lower middle income).

They captured all the screenshots that McDonald’s posted to these national Instagram accounts from September to December 2019 and added up the number of followers, “likes”, “comments” and video views associated with each. counted in April 2020.

The 15 accounts maintained a total of 10 million subscribers and generated 3.9 million “likes”, 164,816 comments and 38.2 million video views.

A total of 849 marketing positions were identified. McDonald’s posted 154% more positions in lower-middle-income countries than in higher-income countries: an average of 108 positions compared to 43 in the 4-month monitoring period.

The three lower-middle-income countries had more positions than the five upper-middle-income countries (324 versus 227) and the seven high-income countries (298).

Child-friendly positions were more common in lower-middle-income countries than in high-income ones. About 1 in 8 (12%) in high-income countries included child-friendly positions, compared to about 1 in 5 (22%) in lower-middle-income countries.

The company’s Instagram accounts in high-income countries exhibited more healthy habits (14; 5%) than those in upper-middle-income countries (6; 3%) or those in lower-middle-income countries. the lower slice (8; 2.5%).

And only 1 in 7 (14%) in high-income countries included price promotions and free gifts, compared to 40% in lower-middle-income countries.

Price is a key part of a marketing mix and is often used to facilitate consumer purchases, especially among low-income communities who may use price as a decision point.. “

This is an observational study, and as such, cannot establish cause and effect. And the results should be interpreted with caution, given the uneven sampling, the small number of countries involved, and the lack of information on the purchasing behaviors / eating habits of people following McDonald’s social media accounts, say the researchers.

The company may also operate differently in the different countries included in the study, they add.

But McDonald’s has more than 14,000 restaurants in the United States alone and nearly 22,000 in other countries, they point out. And while the link between the growth of fast food businesses internationally and individual demand for fast food is complex, fast food advertising has an influential role in persuading people to eat these products, they note.

They conclude: “As the use of social media increases, the advertisements of fast food companies on social media can have unprecedented effects on food options, especially in low-income countries.

“By targeting certain subsets through advertisements targeted at children and price promotions, McDonald’s social media ads can exacerbate health problems in the world’s most vulnerable countries.”

There is a growing need to tackle the globalization of food and drink marketing in developing countries which may experience higher levels of unhealthy diets, obesity and related diseases, they add.

“This is an important and timely analysis as we begin to better understand the ‘whole systems’ determinants of food choices, which include food production, food supply and the food environment,” comments Sumantra Ray , Executive Director of NNEdPro Global. Nutrition and health center.

“Advertising and public health messages can change all of these factors, especially the food environment, which in turn can influence and change eating habits. And this study offers early but crucial information on the impact of advertising, a relatively neglected area of ​​nutritional research. “


Journal reference:

Cassidy, O., et al. (2021) A comparison of McDonald’s food marketing practices on official Instagram accounts in 15 countries. BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health.

About Walter Bartholomew

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