“MISINFODEMICS”— UNPACKING THE CORE NARRATIVES OF MULTINATIONAL DRINK COMPANIES’ ONLINE MARKETING CAMPAIGNS AIMED AT YOUNG PEOPLE IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
Keywords:misinformation, health literacy, social media marketing
Multinational food and drink companies have increased their social media marketing budget and efforts and some have been rewarded with increased youth consumption of highly refined snack foods and Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) even as overall consumption of SSBs, in many more developed countries, is falling. (Brand-Miller & Barclay, 2017; Chaloupka, Powell, & Warner, 2019). This strategy seems to be working particularly well in Africa. But at the same time, multinational companies are also waging more existential battles against a growing public awareness of the role their products play in epidemics of overweight and obesity (Du, Tugendhaft, Erzse, & Hofman, 2018; Nestle, 2018). This paper explores how ‘Big Food’ multinationals has tried to frame these debates around issues of ‘energy balance’ and highlight SSB companies’ role in promoting the exercise side of their ‘energy balance’ frame. (Ruskin, Stuckler, Serôdio, Barlow, & McKee, 2018, Nestle, 2018). This messaging, this paper argues, propagates misinformation, and is implicated in the current epidemic of poor nutrition in both developing (and developed) countries. Using both thematic content analysis, augmented with audience reception study through focus groups sessions, this paper explores how these companies’ social media marketing combines with their more traditional marketing channels to simultaneously sell product *and* defend their products right to be sold untaxed and unrestricted. The paper explores how these messages resonate with young adults in Nigeria and South Africa, and finds that the SSB companies' overall campaigns and particularly the social media components, are effective in countering public health messaging.