A qualitative analysis of South African television food advertisements in light of childhood obesity concerns.
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Childhood obesity rates have been increasing internationally. One of the contributing factors towards this increase is food advertisements that children are exposed to which persuades them to either buy or request the product. Research in South Africa looking at themes and tactics in food advertisements has not been performed, therefore this study aimed to provide insights on the themes and tactics used in unhealthy television food advertisements in South Africa by performing a deductive thematic analysis on a sample of unhealthy food advertisements shown on free-to-air channels in South Africa. This was performed by compiling themes and tactics found in Western literature on advertising, and specifically advertising influencing children, and then analysing whether these were evident in unhealthy food adverts flighted on South African television channels during prime viewing times. The objectives of this study aimed to look at the extent of unhealthy food advertisements that children might be exposed to and the nature of the themes and tactics used in these unhealthy food advertisements. If themes and tactics from the developed world are used in South Africa, this research can be used as a possible justification for the implementation of regulation for food advertisements in South Africa. This study followed the mixed methods research design, through the use of a deductive thematic analysis of a sample of television food advertisements and a quantitative measure of the extent of ‘unhealthy’ food advertisements shown on South African television. Television was recorded for ten days during prime time hours, as according to Van Vuuren (2006:90), this was the peak television viewing time for children. Television was recorded on two of the most viewed South African free channels, SABC 1 and ETV (Bizcommunity, 2012:para1). The research was conducted in August to avoid advertising for any specific holiday. It was found that South African food advertisements do in fact use the themes and tactics that have been found to be effective in influencing children internationally. Findings show that marketers frequently use the theme humour in food advertising. The most commonly used tactic was emotional appeals, specifically the appeal of ‘fun/happiness’. Both of these tactics appeal to the mood or state of the consumer and try to change the mood of the consumer to a positive one through the use of the product. Overall, it was determined that marketers use themes and tactics that have been found to be effective globally when advertising products to children. Limitations of the study, and recommendations to policy makers are provided. Limitations largely related to limitations with the deductive approach to thematic analysis and limited available literature. It was finally recommended that policy makers look at statutory legislation or government-driven self-regulation of food advertising.