METHODS: The social media analytics site SocialBlade.com was used to identify the most popular YouTube videos (n = 250) targeting children. Ads encountered while viewing these videos were recorded and analyzed for type of product promoted and ad format (video vs. overlay). Food and beverage ads were further coded based on food category and persuasive marketing techniques used.
RESULTS: In total 187 ads were encountered in sampled videos. Food and beverage ads were the most common at 38% (n=71), among which 56.3% (n = 40) promoted noncore foods. Ads for noncore foods were more commonly delivered as video rather than overlay ads. Among ads promoting noncore foods, the most commonly employed persuasive marketing techniques found were taste appeal (42.3%), uniqueness/novelty (32.4%), the use of animation (22.5%), fun appeal (22.5%), use of promotional characters (15.5%), price (12.7%), and health and nutrition benefits (8.5%).
CONCLUSIONS: Similar to television, unhealthy food ads predominate in content aimed toward children on YouTube. Policies regulating food marketing to children need to be extended to cover online content in line with a rapidly-evolving digital media environment. Service providers of social media can play a part in limiting unhealthy food advertising to children.