Advertising to tomorrow's teens : the construction and significance of the tweenage market in Australia

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Since the 1990s, the issue of advertising to children, especially the role of food advertising and childhood obesity, has been the subject of much debate. Advertising to tweens in the US has been well studied; however, research into Australian food marketing has yet to examine its significance for the vulnerable tweenage viewer. The Australian ‘tweenage’ market (children aged 6 to 12) consists of $10 billion in spending each year in the Australian economy, yet very little is known about the Australian tweenage market. To examine the techniques and tactics advertisers use to market food products to tweens through Australian free-to air television, branded websites and Facebook pages, a mixed- methods approach was employed, combining content analysis, semiotic analysis and narrative literature review. Building on the work of Williamson (1978a), semiotic analysis was used to investigate the advertisements’ ideological underpinnings. Chapters 4 to 7 demonstrate that food advertisements broadcast during C-classified time describe the taste of the advertised food products in terms of freshness; they promote the advertised products as healthy on the basis of their weight management, energy giving and mood-enhancement properties; they use humour-, fantasy- and happiness-related themes to bestow a particular brand identity, image or personality on the products; and they employed humour and fantasy as vehicles for evoking happiness. Content analysis of the selected internet pages revealed that food company websites and Facebook pages promoted during children’s television programming contain advertisements, contests, social networking activities and membership benefits but, in order to engage in such activities, children have to register online as members by entering their names, addresses, ages, email addresses and other personal information into the companies’ online data gathering processes. The research uses narrative literature review to examine the responses of the industry’s self-regulation system to the changing media environment. This study found that the government, public health organisations and the food industry responded to rapid changes within the advertising, marketing and media industries by formulating, evaluating and amending advertising codes. This analysis concluded by demonstrating that the industry self-regulatory system has been unsuccessful in protecting children from exposure to unhealthy food advertising. Drawing upon the discoveries made during these investigations, conclusions and recommendations are presented, highlighting the need for a fresh approach to regulation and enforcement to protect tweens from the likely impacts of food and beverage advertising.
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