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Colorful candy, teen vibes and cool memes: prevalence and content of Instagram posts featuring ultra-processed products targeted at adolescents

Gaston Ares (Sensometrics and Consumer Science, Facultad de Química, Instituto Polo Tecnológico de Pando, Universidad de la Republica, Montevideo, Uruguay)
Florencia Alcaire (Sensometrics and Consumer Science, Facultad de Química, Instituto Polo Tecnológico de Pando, Universidad de la Republica, Montevideo, Uruguay)
Vanessa Gugliucci (Espacio Interdisciplinario, Universidad de la Republica Uruguay, Montevideo, Uruguay)
Leandro Machín (Centro de Investigación Básica en Psicología, Facultad de Psicología, Universidad de la Republica, Montevideo, Uruguay)
Carolina de León (División Salud, Intendencia de Montevideo, Montevideo, Uruguay)
Virginia Natero (Departamento de Alimentos, Escuela de Nutrición, Universidad de la Republica Uruguay, Montevideo, Uruguay)
Tobias Otterbring (Department of Management, University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 21 June 2023

Issue publication date: 8 February 2024

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Abstract

Purpose

The current research aimed to examine the prevalence of Instagram posts featuring ultra-processed products targeted at adolescents in Uruguay and hence investigate the frequency of such posts among a vulnerable consumer segment in a country that cannot be classified as WEIRD (i.e. Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic).

Design/methodology/approach

The study relied on a cross-sectional content analysis. A total of 2,014 Instagram posts promoting ultraprocessed products or brands commercializing such products, generated by 118 Instagram accounts between August 15th, 2020, and February 15th, 2021, were analyzed. Nine indicators of food marketing targeted at adolescents were selected to identify posts targeted at this age segment. Inductive coding was used to describe the content of the posts. Descriptive statistics and generalized linear models were used to analyze the data.

Findings

In total, 17.6% of the posts were identified as targeted at adolescents. Graphic design and adolescent language were the most prevalent indicators of marketing targeted at adolescents, followed by explicit references to adolescents or young adults and memes. Posts identified as targeted at adolescents mainly promoted snacks and discretionary foods. Differences in the content of posts identified as targeted and not targeted at adolescents were observed.

Research limitations/implications

The analysis was restricted to one social media platform in one country during a limited period of time, which limits the generalizability of the findings to other media platforms, samples and settings.

Social implications

Results stress the need to implement digital food marketing regulations to reduce exposure of adolescents to the deleterious effects of stemming from marketing of unhealthy foods and provide empirical evidence to inform their development.

Originality/value

The study breaks new ground by analyzing the prevalence and exploring the characteristics and content of Instagram posts promoting ultra-processed products to adolescents in an under-researched geographic area of the world.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Ethical Approval: The study was approved by the Ethics committee of the School of Chemistry of Universidad de la República, Uruguay (Protocol 101900-000608-20).

Funding: Financial support was obtained from Comisión Sectorial de Investigación Científica (Universidad de la República, Uruguay) and Espacio Interdisciplinario (Universidad de la República, Uruguay).

Declaration of Competing Interests: The authors declare no competing interests.

Citation

Ares, G., Alcaire, F., Gugliucci, V., Machín, L., de León, C., Natero, V. and Otterbring, T. (2024), "Colorful candy, teen vibes and cool memes: prevalence and content of Instagram posts featuring ultra-processed products targeted at adolescents", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 58 No. 2, pp. 471-496. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-12-2022-0899

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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