The fast-food industry spends $5 billion on advertising and is disproportionately targeting children in general and Black and Latino youth in particular, according to the Fast Food FACTS 2021 report published by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.
An Advertising Overview: The report, which tracked data and trends during 2019, found the level of annual advertising spending increased by more than $400 million since 2012.
A total of 274 fast-food restaurants advertised in 2019, but six restaurants — McDonald’s Corp MCD, Domino’s, Burger King, Yum! Brands, Inc.'s YUM Taco Bell, Sonic, and Little Caesars — were responsible for 46% of total fast-food ad spending and approximately 55% of fast-food TV ads viewed by children and teens.
All of the top fast-food advertisers devoted 80% or more of their total advertising spending to television noted, and the medium accounted for 98% or more of the Restaurant Brands International’s QSR Burger King and Popeyes, Domino’s Pizza DPZ and Inspire Brands’ Sonic Drive-In.
Targeted Marketing: The report determined that preschoolers, children and teens viewed on average 2.1 to 2.3 fast-food TV ads per day, but less than 10% of the advertisements viewed promoted kids’ meals.
Nearly all restaurants with child-directed TV ads advertised on ViacomCBS Inc.'s VIAC Nickelodeon cable channel, which represented 66% of ads viewed by preschoolers on children’s TV and 56% of ads viewed by children.
AT&T Inc.'s T CartoonNetwork represented 22% of the ads viewed on children’s TV and 29% of the ads viewed by children.
McDonald’s Happy Meals and restaurant were the only products advertised on Walt Disney Co.’s DIS Disney XD. The report noted that Disney is the only media company with clearly defined nutrition standards for products seeking to advertise on its children’s television channel.
The report also determined fast-food advertising is heavily targeting Black and Latino youth. Total advertising spending by fast-food restaurants on Spanish-language TV during 2019 was $318 million, a 33% increase from seven years earlier. In comparison, total TV ad spending only went up by 9% during the same time period.
Black preschoolers, children, and teens viewed approximately 75% more fast-food TV ads than their white peers. The report noted Black youth watched more television than their white counterparts: on average Black preschoolers watched 32% more hours of TV than white preschoolers watched, while Black children watched 61% more and Black teens 58% more.
In 2019, 22 of the top 27 fast-food restaurants spent a total of $99 million to advertise on Black-targeted TV. This averaged 3% of their national TV ad spending budgets on Black-targeted television programming.
“Now more than ever, parents need support in raising healthy children, and consistent exposure to ads featuring burgers, fries, and pizza sabotages their best efforts,” said Frances Fleming-Milici, Director of Marketing Initiatives at the Rudd Center and a co-author of the study.
“Media companies, policymakers, and advocates can play a vital role in demanding an end to irresponsible advertising.”
Seeking More Minority-Focused Advertising: The new report comes one month after a lawsuit was filed against a fast-food giant that claimed it was intentionally refusing to advertise on Black-owned media outlets.
McDonald’s is being sued for $10 billion by Entertainment Studios Inc. and Weather Group LLC, companies owned by comedian-turned-media executive Byron Allen.
The lawsuit alleged McDonald’s has refused to advertise on Entertainment Studios’ 12 television networks or Weather Group’s The Weather Channel since Allen acquired the companies in 2018, noting McDonald’s has “purchased significant advertising on similarly situated, white-owned networks.”
The lawsuit added McDonald’s spends less than $5 million of its $1.6 billion annual television ad budget on Black-owned media, even though 40% of its sales come from Black consumers.
“Mcdonald's takes billions from African American consumers and gives almost nothing back,” said Allen, who is Black, in a statement. “The biggest trade deficit in America is the trade deficit between White corporate American and Black America, and McDonald’s is guilty of perpetuating this disparity.”
The lawsuit came on the same day McDonald’s pledged it would increase its national advertising spending in media outlets with Black, Latino, Asian American, female and LGBTQ ownership.
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