According to the World Health Organization (2017), non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of death and disability globally. In 2015, NCDs caused 70% of deaths worldwide (37% in low-income countries, and 88% in high-income countries). One of the major risk factors for NCDs is the consumption of unhealthy commodities such as ultra-processed products, energy-dense-nutrient-poor (ENDP) food and beverages, tobacco and alcohol. Marketing of these unhealthy foods and beverages has been identified as one of the leading contributors to this phenomenon. Cairns et al. (2013) pointed out that there are consistent links between food promotion and negative health outcome. Marketing has the ability to influence preference, purchase and consumption habits of consumers. Indeed, commercial marketing of these unhealthy commodities has contributed to the increase in their usage.
Jenkel et al. (2014) states that a majority of the available literature focuses on the effects or impact of marketing of unhealthy products on the traditional media platforms, and in particular through the use of the television. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) (2017) points out that although the television is still the most utilized promotional channel, there is existing evidence that its dominance over the years has reduced. Federal Trade Commission (2017) points out that a majority of the companies in the manufacturing food industry in the USA are shifting their marketing budgets from the traditional to digital marketing media. In a study that was conducted by the FTC between 2006 and 2009 showed that in the US, the annual expenditure on children-directed television marketing had declined by 20%, while in the digital media had risen by 50% during this period.
Digital marketing includes any form of promotional activities that are undertaken in websites, social networking sites (SNS), mobile phone texts, mobile applications, online games, and emails. Social media marketing refers to any form of activity or process that facilitates a brand to gain traffic or attention through the use of the existing social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and You Tube. Social media is a term that is used to refer to sites that provide users with the opportunity to perform different social actions. Facebook for instance, is a social networking site that allows its users to be able to share updates, post and like status, and join events. Social media marketing is gaining prominence as an ideal marketing tool in comparison to traditional media marketing because of its 24/7 availability, ubiquity, and interactivity. Kelly et al. (2015) suggest that social media marketing is more influential than traditional media because of peer endorsement and the unique opportunities that companies that use it can enjoy such as 'seeding' of messages on social media, and then transmitting it to its online communities.
Cairns et al. (2013) states that while there is existing research that has been conducted to gain a better understanding of the effects of commercial marketing on unhealthy products focusing on young children, research on adolescents is highly limited. Anderson et al. (2009) stated that systematic reviews conducted to show the relationship between alcohol promotion to adolescents provided evidence of an increase in usage in this particular group. Freeman et al. (2015) highlights that there is the need for more research and creation of adequate policies and regulations that will restrict the use of social media marketing of unhealthy food products targeting teenagers. The reasons for this as was noted by Freeman et al. (2015) are teenagers have a strong online presence, increased level of purchasing power, and highly influenced by their peers. Therefore, a majority of digital marketers view them as a lucrative target market segment. The aims of this review will be to assess the influence of social media marketing on the preference, purchase, and consumption of unhealthy food and beverage products by the consumers. It will illustrate that teenagers should be considered as a vulnerable group in terms of the marketing strategies that are used in the digital platform. The study will also provide evidence of the need for social media marketing to have regulations in relation to what can be advertised to a particular target market as is the case in the traditional media.
Factors that Have Contributed to Social Media Marketing Gaining Prominence to Marketers
Factors such as technology and globalization have led to a majority of businesses operating in different sectors to select the social media platform as an appropriate medium for marketing their campaigns to a wide range of consumers. The growth of the social media platform has become an important communication channel between businesses and their targeted customers (Akalamkam & Mitra, 2017). It has also led to the creation and emergence of virtual communities that may have never met in the real world due to various factors such as their respective geographical locations, and social classes. Social media sites such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, Twitter, and Linked-In are affecting consumer behavior especially in terms of their purchasing decisions (Broilo et al., 2016). Some of their available features such as easy access has enabled a majority of consumers to connect with others to share information, thoughts, and feedbacks in the relation of the different products that they use.
The social media market is ideal for businesses and brand promotion because it is not restricted in the same manner as is the case with the traditional media. For instance, a company can open a Facebook page, and start advertising their products. They may only be required to pay when potential customers open, or like their pages. Even in such cases, the rates charged by the social media sites for marketing are cheaper than for the traditional media. The advertisements that a company posts on their official Facebook or Twitter page can be viewed at any time by the potential customers who are looking for information about the products. Also, through the social media, customers can create their own adverts using the photos that they share, hash-tags, and other methods that will promote the product. In such cases, an organization gets free publicity while at the same time it will enjoy the benefits of advertising.
Businesses and brand marketers are taking advantage of the opportunities and also 'loop-holes' present by the social media sites to market unhealthy products to teenage consumers. Today, more than any other point in history, teenagers have access to information, and also targets for a variety of marketing campaigns, which are meant to influence their purchase decisions. These businesses 'tap' into both their external and internal stimuli, creating a need, which for some did not exist in the first place. The consumers on the other hand do not necessarily rely on the professional reviews that are either provided on the official website of a company, printed in media, or even scholarly articles. The reason for this is that they feel that in some cases the information may be biased in order to influence them to make the purchase.
Instead, the teenage consumers are using these social media sites as sources of information. They will read the com...
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