UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa .– Live gaming platforms can give children and teens a prominent place on the video game screens of their favorite players, but they can also expose them to advertisements promoting the game. influencer-endorsed alcohol, energy drinks and junk food.
A new study from Penn State has found that while these ads were already widespread, they also increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Researchers found that energy drinks made up the vast majority – almost 80% – of marketing, but advertisements for restaurants, sodas, processed snacks, alcohol and candy were also present. Additionally, a rapid increase in advertisements occurred between March 2020 and November 2020, which correlates with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as much of the world moved to spending more time in a online environment.
Nutritional science postdoctoral researcher Caitlyn Edwards said exposing teens and teens to this type of influencer marketing could help shape their thinking about unhealthy foods and drinks, including alcohol.
âThis type of marketing can normalize foods high in fat, sugar and sodium at a point in young viewers’ lives where they develop eating habits that will follow them into adulthood,â said Edwards. “We have seen an increase in, for example, the brand of alcohol, which could normalize the idea that alcohol consumption should be a regular thing among an underage audience.”
While relatively new, researchers said live streaming platforms such as Twitch, Facebook Gaming, and YouTube Gaming have quickly grown in popularity – with Twitch alone bringing in over 30 million people engaging. on their platform every day. Almost a quarter of accounts on the Twitch platform are owned by people between the ages of 13 and 17.
On these platforms, viewers can watch and communicate with gamers while they play video games in real time, as well as chat with other viewers. Once players have enough subscribers, they are sometimes contacted by companies to promote their products through a sponsorship.
Travis Masterson, assistant professor of nutritional sciences and director of the Health, Ingestive Behavior and Technology lab, said that due to the unique nature of referral marketing, less is known about its effects on viewers.
âWhen an influencer promotes a product, there is an interaction between the influencer and their viewers that doesn’t exist with traditional print or visual ads,â Masterson said. “And because viewers feel like they have a relationship with influencers, they may be more willing to purchase these products to help their influencers be successful and make money from these referrals.”
For the study, the researchers compiled a list of over 300 food and drink names that were found to have high rates of food and drink marketing tactics on social media platforms. The products have been divided into six categories: liquor, candy, energy drinks, processed snacks, sodas and restaurants.
The researchers then wrote a data mining program to interact with an analytics service that finds and counts the number of times product names are used in the headlines of content streams on Twitch, YouTube Gaming, and Facebook Gaming. , as well as the number of hours of these flows. are monitored.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found that energy drinks were by far the most commonly advertised products, appearing on 74% of streaming titles.
âThis could be problematic if increased exposure to these ads correlates with increased consumption,â Edwards said.
The researchers said it was important for parents to know what their children are exposed to if they regularly watch live streaming platforms. But Masterson said the findings – recently published in the journal Public Health Nutrition – also have implications for future regulation.
âFood marketing regulation in the United States is virtually non-existent and tends to lag far behind new forms of technology and media,â Masterson said. “But this is something that could be considered, especially since there are a high number of young viewers on these platforms and previous research has shown that exposure to food ads among young people can affect young people. changes in consumption. “
Going forward, the researchers said they would continue to study the effects of marketing on live streaming platforms, including whether – and to what extent – ads influence behavior, eating habits and consumption of marketed food and drink.
Sara J. Pritschet, State of Pennsylvania; Keally Haushalter, State of Pennsylvania; John W. Long, State of Pennsylvania; and Catherine C. Pollack, Dartmouth College, also contributed to this work.