80% of Celebrity Endorsed Foods Are Unhealthy
The U.S. Institute of Medicine and Surgeon General have found that assisting individuals in making health promoting behavioural changes is very difficult to achieve in the current unhealthy world environment. This is seen to be exacerbated by celebrity endorsed food and beverage marketing, which has been identified as a significant contributor to childhood obesity and product preference among both children and adults.
Food and beverage companies spend $ 2 billion US annually on youth-targeted advertisements, causing public health experts to call for a shift towards marketing message that make healthy food and beverage products sexy.
Celebrity Endorsements of Food and Beverages
A new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at the nutritional value of products endorsed by 65 entertainers between 2000 and 2014 in TV and radio commercials, magazine ads and YouTube videos.
The researchers share that current advertising practices exploit the influence of music celebrity endorsement on adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18. Their research has show that on average this age group spends 2-3 hours a day listening to music and that a music celebrity endorsed advert enhances brand equity and the desirability of a product considerably.
“The food industry capitalizes on music celebrities’ popularity with youth by engaging in multi–million-dollar endorsement deals. In 2012, Beyoncé Knowles signed an endorsement deal with Pepsi worth an estimated $50 million, and Justin Timberlake received an estimated $6 million for his involvement in the McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” tune,” says Marie Bragg, lead author of the study.
She continues; “In addition, beverage industry publications credit Latino rapper Pitbull’s endorsement of Dr Pepper with 4.6 million advertising impressions (ie, any views or exposure to ads) and boosting Dr Pepper sales among Latinos by 1.7%, despite overall declines in carbonated soft drink sales. Although this instance is anecdotal, it is important to note the industry perceives it as an example of effective celebrity endorsements.”
The research raises concerns surrounding the need for a focus on adolescent exposure and response to advertising, stating that until now the focus has been on children younger than 12 years of age. Previous research has show adolescents to be a vulnerable audience due to the fact that they are highly impulsive with regard to purchases. This has been found to be as a result of peer pressure, fear of negative evaluation and underdeveloped self control systems.
How unhealthy are the food products endorsed by celebrities?
“This was a descriptive study. A list of music celebrities associated with the 2013 and 2014 Billboard Hot 100 Chart, which ranks songs according to sales and radio impressions, was compiled. Data on celebrity endorsements were gathered from official company Web sites, YouTube commercials, an advertising database, and media reports. Nutritional quality of foods was assessed according to the Nutrient Profile Index, whereas nonalcoholic beverages were evaluated based on calories from added sugar. Teen Choice Award nominations were used to measure the celebrities’ popularity among adolescents,” explains Bragg.
Bragg and her team from the department of population health at New York University School of Medicine, found that of the 65 celebrities that they associated with 57 different food and beverage brands owned by 38 parent companies:
- 81% of the celebrities had one or more Teen Choice Award Nominations.
- 71% of all non-alcoholic beverage endorsements were for sugar sweetened beverages.
- 80% of the endorsed foods were energy dense and nutrient poor.
The Growing Influence of Youtube Advertising
PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Red Bull were the companies that the study found had the most music celebrity endorsements, and the majority of these advertisement views came from Youtube.
“There were over 312 million YouTube views for these kinds of commercials between 2000 and 2014, so it is pretty striking that there is a lot of exposure to these kinds of ads and that most of the products are really unhealthy,” says Bragg.
Rhianna, Britney Spears and Beyonce’ were among the most popular celebrity endorsers on Youtube according to the study.
There are no celebrity endorsed ads for vegetables, whole grains or fruits and few for water.
Bragg suggests that the solution is not only for teenagers to be aware of the issue, but for them to speak up. She believes if they voice feelings of displeasure with being manipulated, then food and beverage companies may change their tactics.
Clearly though, the lure of sponsorship revenue is greater than the need to do public health good. Even Taylor Swift who supports cancer charities, seemed to have ignored the conflict of interest when last year she announced her partnership with Diet Coke. The iconic celebrity released a video message released on YouTube and asked her fans to “like” Diet Coke’s Facebook page and then continued to support the aspartame-laced drink on her Twitter page, where she has 50 million followers. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) challenged Swift publicly and asked her “to step up and be a better role model” for public health by putting down the infamous red and white diet Coca-Cola can. “Every time the Grammy-winning singer poses with a diet Coke, her leverage over what her own impressionable fans will drink is what makes her a threat to public health,” they said.