The 4 Ps of marketing: Selling junk food to communities of color

The 4 Ps — place, price, product, and promotion — form the foundation of today’s marketing practices. However, food and beverage marketers often use these tactics specifically to target low-income groups and communities of color, raising a range of privacy and health concerns. This series of briefs describes each strategy, shows real-world examples of how they are used, and offers suggestions for advocates to take action and rein in marketing for unhealthy foods and beverages.


Using place-based marketing to increase food sales is not new. But in today’s digital age, cutting edge technology can be used to target low-income families and communities of color, including youth, more precisely than ever with ads for junk food and sugary drinks. Marketers can now understand a person’s entire location history — where they go and what they do every minute of the day, including what they buy in stores and online. In this brief, we explain how companies engage in place-based marketing in ways that contribute to health inequities.

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Many of the foods and beverages marketed to low-income communities and communities of color — and sold at low prices — such as sodas, processed snacks, and fast-food meals, are also low in nutrients and high in sugars, salt, and fats. So-called “value menus” are a prime example; despite their low cost, people pay a high price — with their health — to eat them. In this brief, we examine how the food and beverage industry carefully sets prices to appeal to specific groups, particularly those already at an increased risk of diet-related diseases.

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Although food and beverage companies market junk foods and sugar drinks heavily through advertisements and social media promotions, the product being marketed is itself a form of marketing. For example, McDonald’s has created a special jalapeño-loaded double cheeseburger to appeal to Latinx populations, and Oreo developed a rainbow cookie in support of gay pride. In this brief, we explain how food and beverage companies develop products to appeal specifically to low-income communities and communities of color.

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Whether it’s McDonald’s using Instagram influencers to tout a new menu item, or a more traditional Pepsi billboard, promotion is what often comes to mind when people think of marketing because it is so visible. In this brief, we show how marketers use both online and offline promotion tactics to target unhealthy foods and drinks to specific groups, discuss how this contributes to health inequities, and offer suggestions for addressing the issue.

Access the “Promotion” brief: