Israeli Food Makers Break the Rules in Marketing to the Young

Social media have created new, potent opportunities to pitch soft drinks, snacks and desserts.

A screenshot of a Coca Cola advertisement aimed at Israeli youths.
YouTube screenshot

As Israeli adults are making their move to healthier eating, the country’s food companies are working hard to coax children and teenagers into buying the same food their parents are shunning, via marketing campaigns that combine the latest social media with time-tested strategies.

The food and beverage companies spend hundreds of millions of shekels annually on marketing to children and teens, using social media channels like Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Whatsapp and Instagram. The marketing is rarely informational; instead it consists of come-ons in the form of gifts and contests. None of it is subject to any regulation.

Take Strauss Group and its popular dairy dessert, Milky. Last month the Facebook page it sponsors for Milky was ranked No. 1 among Israeli Facebook brand pages, with 217,000 likes. The company manages the page carefully, offering new gifts and other temptations every few days.

In one case, viewers were asked to upload videos to Instagram of themselves with a Milky and tagged according to rules set by the contest. Contestants could win a “Gift Card” worth 6,000 shekels ($1,550).

In response, Strauss said it had voluntarily adopted extra stringent standards for marketing to young people in the past year. “Things we did in the past we are no longer doing,” the company said.

Strauss is not alone. Coca Cola has sponsored summer events for young people, spending millions of shekels on 2-day-long parties with concerts and lots of soft drinks. Osem offered on its Facebook page for the salted snack Bisli a chance to compete for tickets to the Euro soccer championship by playing a game based on the product.

“The young are considered one of the central markets companies have to penetrate because all the other ones are saturated. The world of conventional advertising is fading,” said a senior executive at one of the major food companies, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Young people are an easy market to reach, it’s very profitable to do it, because [social media] platforms are relatively cheap. You make a great video at no cost and you get them to buy your product. You bring a few attractive boys and girls, stick the product in their hand, they advertise your brand in order to get in exchange products they can distribute around to friends or invitations to Milky or cola parties.”

The impact of these campaigns shows up in high levels of obesity and excess consumption of unhealthy ingredients. Some 20% of Israeli first graders are overweight and by the time they reach seventh grade the figure rises to 30%. Salt intake by Israeli teenagers is on average double the recommended level and soft drink consumption is among the highest in the world, exceeding U.S. levels.

The biggest company in Israel offering marketing strategies to the young in Teenk, which is run by Yaniv Waizman and handles accounts for Strauss, Osem and Central Bottling Company, the Israeli Coca Cola franchisee. The company recruits young people to become what it calls buzzers to do grassroots marketing.

As the company explains it: “Teenk’s youthful community counts thousands of teenagers and young people ages 15-21 from all over the country. Like bees that move from one flower to the next, buzzing and spreading pollen, our buzzers are powerful forces for advertising.”

Teenk says its buzzers are the first to learn about new products, and about worthwhile special offers from companies. “With this power, the buzzers spread the new [products] by word of mouth to the population of Israeli teens,” Teenk says.

Einav Albar, a clinical dietician and head of children’s diets in the Jerusalem area for the health maintenance organization Maccabee, said, “From my experience children and teenagers are the population more influenced advertising and marketing. They don’t have the knowledge and life experience to distinguish things. It’s enough to put in front of them something they like and they’ll go for it.”

Albar said she has worked with 3-year-olds who tell their parents what they will eat based on what they hear from friends or see in the media. Parents reluctantly go along. “The minute they start on unhealthy eating habits, it’s very hard to change them. ... Children over age 10 are very opinionated and they have a lot of influence and power over their parents.”

Consumer Protection Regulations bar advertising that encourages minors to persuade their parents to buy them the product or service. They also bar encouragement of minors to participate in gambling, games of chance or lotteries, except raffles for non-commercial purposes. Advertisers are also banned from obtaining a minor’s personal information.

Advertising agencies using older media like television and print say a gap has developed between their cautious campaigns and what is being done in the new media.

“We see that today, in contrast to five years ago, advertisers have imposed a lot of restraints on themselves in terms of advertising unhealthy products to children,:” said Yossi Lubaton, CEO of the ad agency Baumann Ber Rivnay.”That’s mainly because of the new consumer spirit and the fact that parents are much more aware of health issues.”