Ever wondered why food advertised on billboards or social media pop-ups never looks the same as the real thing? The industry uses photoshop and photo editing techniques to make the product look better than it really is.

These marketing strategies can be harmful, as they often aren’t entirely honest about telling consumers, particularly young consumers, what’s really in the food they are eating.

Food companies spend billions of dollars a year to market their products to young people and keep them craving more.

Whether scrolling through TikTok, watching YouTube videos, or binge-watching your favourite TV show, you probably see a lot of ads for junk food.

Experts say social media has made junk food advertising even more effective – and difficult to spot – partly because it turns everyday users into “brand ambassadors”. By liking and sharing posts of junk food, people end up marketing those brands to their followers, who often don’t realise they’re seeing ads.

All this advertising seems to be working, says a 4 January 2021 report in Upfront. According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, young people eat 45% more after watching food ads on TV, whether they feel hungry or not. In fact, researchers at the University of Michigan have even found that fast-food ads hijack the “reward” section of teenagers’ brains, causing them to crave unhealthy foods.

The food industry also uses tactics like tracking your digital footprint, pushing out ads on social media just when you might be hungry, offering better prices for larger portions, and even using fancy and flashy packaging to make the food look more attractive. (UNICEF South Africa Blog)

Michael Pollan, American author and journalism professor at the University of California at Berkeley has this simple advice: “Simply don’t buy any food you’ve ever seen advertised. The broccoli growers don’t have money for ad budgets. So the real food is not being advertised.”