Dark marketing tactics of harmful industries exposed by young citizen scientists

Brady Robards, Nicholas Carah, Chiara De Lazzari, Lillian Rangiah, Maria-Gemma Brown, Karla Elliott, Claire Tanner, Steven Roberts, Michael Savic, Amy Dobson

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned ReportOther


We all want to give future generations the best shot at growing up happy and healthy. This will happen when we have an environment that enhances people’s health and wellbeing rather than undermining it.

But this is easier said than done when harmful industries invest big bucks in marketing and advertising products. We’re talking about gambling, alcohol, unhealthy food and sugary drinks.

While young people explore, learn and connect online, harmful industries are right there with them. Marketing and advertising their products anytime and anywhere they want.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat have extraordinary market power. Despite this, there are inadequate industry codes in place that lack transparency and accountability.

It largely occurs under the radar and is always evolving, making it tricky to identify and control. This makes it tough to observe what marketers are doing and hold them to account.

Unlike advertising in broadcast, print and outdoor channels, advertising on digital media platforms is only visible to those who have been targeted.

A crucial way to find out what marketers are doing is to ask young people to show us the ads they see. VicHealth, Monash University and The University of Queensland partnered with 204 citizen scientists (aged 16-25) to look at how alcohol, unhealthy food, sugary drinks and gambling products were promoted to them online.

The citizen scientists sent the researchers 5,169 examples of unhealthy food, alcohol, and gambling advertising they saw on their social media feeds across a two-week period in mid-2021 and shared their perspectives on the ads they received.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • social media
  • youth
  • digital media
  • advertising
  • regulation

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