Food Advertising: Diet and Health Journal of Food Products Marketing

Journal of Food Products Marketing

Edited by Neal H. Hooker

This virtual special issue highlights six previously published papers in the Journal of Food Products Marketing for their contribution to the discussion of food advertising in promoting “healthier” product and dietary choices. The articles span recurring and contemporary research topics, regions of the globe, and methodological approaches. Direct and indirect (parental choice) effects of advertising are considered along with various channels/formats of messages from generic category-level promotions through product placement and advergames.

Brown and Lee consider quantity and quality impacts of generic TV advertising on retail sales of orange juice. This study shows health messages can positively impact sales even when generic rather than brand specific. The authors demonstrate a slower decay rate for health messages compared to general promotions. The novel method to consider zeros in the advertising data and disaggregation to compare effectiveness across regions provide a lasting contribution for this the oldest study in this virtual special issue.

Given the potential positive health advertising advantage it is critical to track what is claimed in food advertisements and to assess consumer responses to such messages. Moon provides a detailed content analysis of the supply of messages in Korean TV advertisements. A well designed coding scheme considered both the type of health messages and executional elements. The study identifies the frequent use of implied or “soft” health claims with limited substantiation. This gives rise to concerns over the potential to confuse or mislead consumers. Singh and Soni, conducting research in India, focus on consumer response to claims by considering parental perceptions about the ethical dimensions of health messages targeting children. Interestingly, parents didn’t support the need for additional regulation to control such health messages and had confidence in their self-efficacy to mediate any negative impacts through restricted exposure to these messages. It would be very interesting to compare this finding with parental perceptions (and actual exposure) in other countries. In a similar vein, Harker, Harjer and Svebsen discuss the frequent critique of food service/quick serve restaurant advertising in “causing” the obesity problem in Australia for this article, but the argument can be generalized. The authors describe how attribution theory can motivate the direct link between food advertising and obesity as one external or environmental factor. They characterize the actions of various stakeholders in being part of the discussion to regulate such advertisements.

The final two papers present experimental evidence for different outcome measures common in the broader literature; consumer attitudes and food choices. Wei, Rickard and Brown consider the potential role of body weight on response to advertisement appeals. Students of different weights (and genders) had distinct preferences. Emotional rather than informational appeals were found to be more effective influencers. Esmaeilpour et al. consider the role of health knowledge and the entertainment value of the advertisement on the choices of children for healthy and unhealthy products. Children tended to select unhealthy food after exposure to unhealthy food advertisements, the effect was greater when the content had a higher entertainment value and was moderated when heath knowledge was activated. They include a recommendation to embed health claims in advertisements.

We hope this summary of these articles and the set of papers selected for this virtual special issue stimulates additional research exploring the links between food advertising, diet and health. There is a need for more complete, richer understanding of when and which messages change consumer behavior; how long such changes persist; and for whom these responses “work” to help firms design campaigns and for policy makers evaluating controls. For example, if a product category has a range of health messages supporting different brands, do sales benefits “spill-over” to competing products or are they brand-specific? Research evaluating the more complex interactions of channels and message contents within integrated marketing communication frameworks should recognize that experimental evidence from simple single measures of exposure alone are highly context and population specific and generally serve as poor indicators of potential behavior as consumers vary over their knowledge, motivation and openness to change.