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Understanding consumer opinions towards HFSS advertising & products

On Tuesday evening, Cristiano Ronaldo became the top goal scorer in the history of the European Championship in Portugal’s 3-0 defeat over Hungary. But Hungary wasn’t the only team to be obliterated by Ronaldo. During a pre-match interview, Ronaldo moved two bottles of Coca-Cola out of shot, before picking up his bottle of water in replacement. A snub which allegedly cost the soft drinks goliath $4bn in market value.

The stunt was a reminder of the speed with which personal perceptions can outpace marketing. It also highlighted the challenges that marketers face when it comes to HFSS (high fat, salt and sugar) advertising. Especially as new government legislation around HFSS advertising is set to commence in April 2022, restricting where and when brands can promote their products.

We wanted to understand the language that British people naturally use when discussing HFSS foods and drinks and dig deeper into any negative perceptions that may exist. Using Relative Insight’s text analysis tool, we analysed social media listening data over the past year around HFSS products. As government ruling only affects British brands and consumers, we compared tweets from the UK against tweets from the US as a way of baselining the comparison and to understand the state of the conversation in two distinct markets.

This comparison uncovers the words, phrases and emotions that are unique to each audience. As brands such as Coca-Cola pay greater attention to their marketing strategy, these social insights could be extremely useful in developing strategic communications.

Brits on HFSS products

Organic mentions of HFSS products amongst UK audiences were 4.9x more likely to centre around money. British consumers commented on the affordability of HFSS foods, especially for low-income families. They showed awareness of the fact that child poverty still exists across Britain, commenting on how HFSS food is a cheaper alternative to healthier meals. However, some felt that these foods should be taxed higher and healthy foods subsidised in return.

insight card - price of hfss products

The UK conversation around HFSS products was largely rooted in health. We found increased usage of words such as overweight, diabetic and obese in this data set. In particular, Twitter users were concerned about the impact of HFSS foods on children’s health.

This led audiences to question where the responsibility lies when it comes to the effects of consuming HFSS products, a word which appeared 11x more in UK tweets. Users debated whether the food industry was to blame for rising obesity levels as a result of creating highly addictive processed food and drink. Some blamed the government for not placing more restrictions on these products, while others felt that personal accountability was needed.

insight card - where does responsibility lie?

What’s interesting is that UK audiences were 9.7x more likely to discuss HFSS advertising head on. We found that there were a lot of negative opinions towards adverts that feature high fat, high salt and high sugar foods. Users felt that retailers should be promoting health, and even mentioned the idea of banning HFSS advertising full stop. Clearly, consumers are aware of the controversy in advertising products which can be seen as harmful to our health.

insight card - hfss advertising

Americans on HFSS products

HFSS products are typically classified as junk food. However, an interesting insight was that Americans are more likely to talk about HFSS foods in relation to Keto diets than the Brits. A ketogenic diet is essentially high-fats, low-carbs. One of its main allures is that you can technically continue to eat junk food and still lose weight.

insight card - HFSS and keto diets

In comparison to UK audiences, Americans didn’t blame institutions for their consumption of HFSS products. Instead, users were seen to make sweeping generalisations about themselves and their fellow Americans. Tweets included things like: “Americans are lazy”, “Americans are choosing high fats, sugars and snacks”, “Americans live very unhealthy lifestyles.” Rather than seeing the government or food companies as the problem, Americans merely blamed their own culture.

insight card - american stereotypes

Understanding the differences between audiences in different locations is essential to creating products and communications that resonate with their needs. When new legislation around HFSS advertising begins, brands that sells in the UK market need to ensure that they understand and address the concerns of their customers as they will no longer be able to promote many of their products.

Relative Insight is a text analysis platform like no other. We leverage comparison to find and explore key language insights, which offer intel into the minds of consumers. Speak to our team to find out how you can get more out of your social media listening data.

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