Researchers at Griffith University are warning mums and dads living on or visiting the Gold Coast this holiday season not to be lured by fast food advertising.

The results of a research study carried out at Griffith’s Department of Marketing shows a notable jump in the length of television advertising blocks during holiday season, and while the length of fast food ads shortens during this period, don’t be fooled there are more of them.

“This research is a reminder that we need to monitor carefully how much television our children are watching, and also keep in mind its powerful influence,” Associate Professor Rundle-Thiele from Griffith Business School said.

“Advertising strategies are carefully thought out and this research shows how families might be strategically targeted during a busy time of the year when they are likely to be less vigilant where fast food is concerned and more inclined to give in to demands from children for treats.

“The study shows that while food advertisements are longer in school terms, repetition is used during school holidays. More short advertisements appear more often during school holidays.”

Honours student Abdul Alhallafi recorded advertising on one popular free-to-air commercial television channel during a school term week (November 22-26, 2011), and during a school holiday week (December 12-16, 2011). Advertising between 4pm and 9pm during the designated weeks was observed and analysed.

He found that block length of adverts were 3.4 minutes on average during the holiday period, compared with 2.8 minutes during school term. This suggested an increase of 36 seconds per block of ads during school holidays.

The length of a fast food advert (21.4 seconds) during the school holiday period was shorter than during school period (23.6 seconds). There were more short food adverts (61%) than longer food adverts (39%) during the holiday period.

Researchers initially planned to compare the persuasion methods used by healthy food advertising with the methods used in the advertisement of non-core foods. Non-core foods are foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. This plan had to be set aside when they learned that the overwhelming majority of food advertisements were for fast food or processed high-calorie content foods.

One fast food outlet, McDonald’s, dominated the food advertising market and increased its number of adverts by 31 percent during the holiday period.

“The Gold Coast is one of Australia’s leading holiday destinations for domestic travellers, suggesting McDonald’s is attempting to influence family living on the Coast and families holidaying on the Coast,” Abdul Alhallafi said.

Analysis of the TV advertisements showed that McDonald’s used price as a method of persuasion to win people over by emphasising good price deals like family deals to coincide with the Christmas holiday period, a peak family holiday time in Australia.

The use of sex appeal as a method of persuasion was also examined, prompting a proposal from researchers for a disclaimer to be incorporated into ads to avoid people making a link between fast food products and healthy body image.

“This study is a snapshot captured from one region during a limited timeframe. More research is needed to get a better picture of how food marketers are targeting people,” Associate Professor Rundle-Thiele said.