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Wednesday 19 January 2022 10:57am

Attaching cameras to children has revealed they are exposed to 554 brands a day through marketing, a new study from the University of Otago has found.

Associate Professor Leah Watkins image
Associate Professor Leah Watkins

Research co-lead Associate Professor Leah Watkins, from the Department of Marketing, says the results highlight an urgent need to reduce marketing for both personal and planetary health reasons.

Wearable, automatic cameras were given to 90 children, aged 11 to 13, to provide an unprecedented view of their daily exposure to marketing over two full days.

The study found children are exposed to 554 brands per 10-hour day, or nearly a brand a minute.

The majority of these exposures occurred in school (43 per cent), at home (30 per cent), and in-store (12 per cent), most commonly on brand labels (46 per cent), product packaging (22 per cent) and commercial signage (13 per cent).

Associate Professor Watkins says children live in a highly commercialised world, one that bombards them with consumption messages.

While she expected to see advertising for unhealthy products, she found the relative number of those messages, in comparison to social and healthy food messages, concerning.

Also concerning, is the finding that there are links between socio-economic status and exposure to harmful advertising, she says.

“This is alarming given the high rates of obesity, alcohol, and gambling harm in socioeconomically deprived neighbourhoods.

“It suggests marketing messages may accentuate inequities and place further pressure on those who are already disadvantaged.”

Associate Professor Watkins says not only do the results raise concerns about marketing's role in promoting products directly harmful to public health, but also its role in encouraging overconsumption.

“One of the major threats to planetary health is overconsumption, and the current and continued increases in consumption are unsustainable,” she says.

The United Nations has called on member states to reduce the level of commercial marketing; to identify spaces which should be free of marketing, such as schools; and to ensure a wider diversity of pro-social message.

Associate Professor Watkins hopes the research will stimulate important discussions about the policies needed to achieve this for the next generation.

The study is co-authored by Research Fellow Ryan Gage, Professor Louise Signal and Senior Research Fellow Moira Smith, all from the Department of Public Health, Wellington, as well as Lecturer Christina McKerchar, from the Department of Population Health, Christchurch, and Professor Robert Aitken, from the Department of Marketing.

The team plans to further investigate children's exposure to marketing in schools through an audit of marketing activities, as schools were the site for a significant number of marketing exposures.

A pilot study using software to track children's online exposure to marketing is also underway.

Publication details:

An objective assessment of children's exposure to brand marketing in New Zealand (Kids'Cam): a cross-sectional study
Associate Professor Leah Watkins, Ryan Gage, Moira Smith, Christina McKerchar, Professor Robert Aitken, Professor Louise Signal

For further information, please contact:

Associate Professor Leah Watkins
Department of Marketing, Otago Business School
University of Otago, Dunedin

Molly Houseman
Communications Adviser, Media Engagement
University of Otago, Dunedin
Mob +64 21 279 5016

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