Food and beverage companies are finding creative ways to reach kids online. Here’s what to know.

The Washington Post
Casey Seidenberg

I have witnessed my sons on social media posting images of simulated Gatorade coolers being poured over their heads, sending digital Valentine Day’s cards made by Taco Bell reading “Nacho average Valentine,” and voting on new potato-chip flavors. These are not the passive ads of my childhood. They are clever ways corporations reach children and teenagers, encouraging them to interact with a brand and promote it to their friends.

Valentines certainly appear innocent enough. But will manipulating an image of a Gatorade cooler really entice kids to drink more of the colorful stuff?

According to studies, the answer is yes. Marketing junk food to kids is proven to be effective at increasing a child’s preference and consumption of advertised foods.

Many things make children susceptible to advertising, including peer pressure. How can a brand use peer pressure? In 2007, Mountain Dew launched its DEWmocracy campaign, in which people played an online game to create a new soda flavor. In the next phase, participants were encouraged to recruit others to vote for their favorite flavor finalist. Not long after the campaign, a marketing trade publication ranked Mountain Dew No. 1 on tweens’ list of “Newest Beverages” they had tried.

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