Exposing How Marketers Target Youth.

U.S. companies are infecting the world’s young people with invasive, stealth, and incessant digital marketing for junk food. And they are targeting Black and Brown youth because they know kids of color are cultural trendsetters. Big Food and Big Tech run away with the profits after trampling the health of children, youth, and families.
Dr. Lori Dorfman
Berkeley Media Studies Group

food & beverage companies know kids of color are cultural trendsetters.

Big Food Is the New Face of Big Tech.

Food and beverage marketing has a tremendous impact on what young people eat and drink, and marketers use this knowledge to reach kids at a young age, potentially shaping their eating habits for life. Collectively, marketers’ digital tactics for targeting youth comprise what some advocates are now calling the digital marketing genome. It’s as cutting-edge, complex, and invasive as it sounds. The first step in addressing it is understanding how this “genome” operates.

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Mass surveillance and data collection

Powerful analytical software mines data from social media and other online applications, allowing marketers to analyze behavior patterns and profile young users.


Companies identify, profile, and segment consumers into highly granular categories; they can then exclude or target individuals and groups and engage with them across multiple websites and devices.

Artificial Intelligence and Manipulating the Subconscious

These techniques allow marketers to study the brain’s response to advertising in hopes of circumventing rational decision-making among consumers.

Real-Time, Location-based, & Mobile Marketing

Marketers use mobile messaging, GPS, and an array of Internet applications to target and influence consumers based on geo-location.

Infiltrating Social Networks

By penetrating social networks, marketers are able to survey and track users’ online conversations and behaviors without their awareness.

Immersive Environments and Gaming

The goal is to blur the line between the digital and real world and make it hard for users to distinguish between marketing and other content.

Online and Streaming Video

“Where one customer sees a Coca-Cola on the table, the other sees green tea,” a marketing executive explained, regarding product placement within videos. “Where one customer sees a bag of chips, another sees a muesli bar… in the exact same scene.”

despite improvements to online privacy protections, kids are still vulnerable amid the current marketing landscape

Just how bad is the problem? The data paint a troubling picture:
  • 95% of teens have access to a smartphone.
  • More than 45.7 million Gen Z viewers regularly watch streaming television.
  • According to the Institute of Medicine, between 1994 and 2004 there were “3,936 new food products and 511 new beverage products targeted to children and youth.” Most of these were “high in total calories, sugar, or fat and low in nutrients.”
  • Marketers spent around $9.7 billion (U.S.) for their worldwide influencer efforts in 2020, and are expected to spend up to $15 billion in 2022.
  • Cutting-edge digital marketing tactics are happening in addition to traditional marketing tactics, which are already problematic. For example, Black children and teens see 90% more ads for snacks and sugary drinks on TV compared to their white counterparts.

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Join Us!

  • Check out 8 steps that experts at the Center for Digital Democracy recommend for better protecting kids online.
  • Stay tuned to the latest research and advocacy efforts to end targeted junk food marketing to youth of color.
  • Report children’s privacy violations to the Federal Trade Commission at COPPAhotline@ftc.gov.

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