Moms drive up sales for unhealthy children’s snacks on TikTok — by being its ambassadors

Notice an uptick in ‘junk food’ snacks for children seeping into your feed? An increasing number of moms are cashing in on the affiliate marketing boom on TikTok by advertising sweets. First of a two-part special.  
MANILA, Philippines — If it seems like most short-form videos of children’s snacks start with heaps of chocolate and sweets bursting — literally — from their packaging to spill out onto plates off-screen, that is by no accident, according to TikTok affiliate marketer Janina Diwa.
Immediately grabbing viewers’ attention to keep them from scrolling up is an important strategy used by affiliate marketers, who earn money for every sale of the products they promote, Diwa said.
But the truly successful affiliate marketers have had to go beyond attention-grabbing spiels and video gimmicks, which almost any TikTok influencer today can pull off, Diwa said.
The 33-year-old “mom influencer” said that she noticed more videos of her affiliate marketing content going viral after she started promoting products aimed at a specific type of audience: fellow mothers like her.
Since she started creating 30-second videos of chocolate snacks, baby items and other “mommy-friendly” products in April, Diwa now earns an average of “five digits” monthly from affiliate marketing — now her main source of income.
”Mothers like us know the weakness of other mothers — when we see people promoting products that make us think, ‘I want my child to experience this and taste this, too.’ That kind of envy is used by promoters, and it works,” Diwa said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started the online shopping craze, TikTok has been jampacked with influencers-slash-affiliate marketers promoting everything from food items to the latest trends in clothing. 
But the affiliate marketing boom has also fueled a different kind of trend on TikTok: mothers like Diwa promoting and encouraging other parents to buy snacks high in sugar and salt content for their children. 
While one expert on families’ consumer behavior said that mothers tend to be discerning in food purchases, the lack of a platform requirement for affiliates to disclose the nutritional content of what they promote is compounding the government’s slow crawl toward regulating children-targeted marketing.
The mommy niche
Based on a Philstar.com analysis of at least 20 TikTok videos of children’s snacks, many affiliates in the “mommy niche” market vouch for their products by tapping into mothers’ need to provide affordable but delicious treats for kids.
The analysis also indicates that some TikTok videos of snacks strategically frame the sweets — mostly chocolate biscuits — as the ideal “pambaon (packed snack)” for children, appealing to mothers’ need for affordability and convenience.
In a country where nearly every street corner displays advertisements that promote the unhealthy consumption of food, it is no surprise that the numbers of obese Filipinos “are increasing across all life stages,” said Kioh Monato, training specialist at the National Nutrition Council (NNC).  
TikTok and other social media platforms have also become part of the country’s “environment … bombarded with ads about unhealthy food,” Monato said.
To become affiliates of products being sold on TikTok shops, content creators are required to have at least 1,000 followers and be at least 18 years old. Before they can promote anything, they have to contact the seller and apply to be an affiliate for their products.
While TikTok in the United States has imposed a ban on advertisements targeting children, no similar measure appears to be in place in the Philippines.  
Patterns of messaging
Diwa said that while she is heavily reliant on marketing to other mothers like her, she would never knowingly promote a product that she would not use or give to her child.
“If it’s going to be good for the child, mothers will naturally buy it. But if not, I don’t promote it at all,” Diwa said.
The 33-year-old was laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic and had turned to online selling and affiliate marketing to eke out an income to raise her four-year-old child.
Diwa has also asked her son to appear in one of her videos to munch on the chocolate cone snack she markets to mothers on the platform. 
“If he likes a food item, it also attracts buyers. Because they’ll think: ‘If her child likes it, my kid will like it too.’ That’s how it works,” Diwa said.
For this story, Philstar.com analyzed the top 20 videos that appeared in various search keywords combining “snacks,” “children’s snacks” and “delicious snacks Philippines.”
In all, 12 out of 20 videos were posted by accounts that were either overtly or discreetly under the category of “mommy marketers” (marketers who either included being a mother in their name or had content implying they were mothers), while the rest were online shops or a mix of the two.
An overwhelming majority or 14 out of 20 videos featured chocolate biscuit treats from brands like Coco, Momom and MyLikes, which are less well-known than typical snack brands like Nestlé, Regent and Oishi.
The most prominent marketing messages used by affiliates are focused on the taste and not the nutritional content of the snacks, often featuring phrases like “yummy for kids” and “magugustuhan ng mga bata (kids will like it)” in 12 out of 20 videos.
 

The most common words used in the captions of the 20 TikTok videos promoting snacks for children. Some prominent words include “affordable, school, biscuit, pambaon and masarap.” 

Meanwhile, eight out of 20 videos used varying descriptions to hype the snack as the ideal “pambaon (packed snack)” for schoolchildren. Repeated in captions and/or spoken through voiceovers, the videos promise parents greater day-to-day convenience if they purchase snacks that are easy to pack.
Affiliates also directly addressed mothers in five out of 20 videos, using phrases like “mga mommies” or “mga fellow nanays dyan (fellow mommies)” while promoting their products.
Filipino mothers are typically discerning about the food products they purchase for children but remain conscious of the ease with which they can quickly prepare their snacks, said Carla Perlas, chief editor of TheAsianParent.com.
“Seeing other moms selling quick and easy-to-prepare children’s snacks online, I think they’ll consider first the authenticity of the content. Is it an influencer post paid for by a brand?” she said.

Screengrabs from TikTok videos of affiliate markets selling children’s snacks, taken December 27, 2023

But ultimately, price is a “big factor” given that most mothers work on a tight budget, Perlas added.
“At the end of the day, as a mom, I want to make sure that whatever I pay for gets my money’s worth — that my kids enjoy the snack I make and the snack doesn’t cost much money and time to prepare,” said Perlas, who has more than a decade of experience writing and researching topics on food and parenting.
Eight out of 20 videos highlighted the affordability of the snacks, with a few affiliates mentioning that similar snacks sold by big brands in supermarkets are more expensive. 
A 2019 survey by theAsianParent also found that Filipino moms “make the biggest purchasing decisions in the household” — evidence that has prompted Perlas and her team to describe mothers as the “Chief Household Officers.”
False virality 
Interestingly, despite the negative connotation of the word, two videos used or referred to the phrase “nabudol” or “nagpabudol,” which roughly translates to being persuaded or convinced to purchase a product against their will. The two videos that used the “nabudol” message did so in a positive manner, encouraging other mothers to become “among the many” who have been persuaded to buy the chocolate treat. One of these videos was Diwa’s, which featured her son munching on a chocolate cone snack.

Marlon Nombrado, co-founder of Out of the Box Media Literacy Initiative, said that the “notion of self-restraint” is an important concept in the context of food marketing, regardless if the marketing is directed at older or younger generations.
“The ethos of social media is that you have to go with what’s trending. It’s like if you’re not doing anything to join a trend or you don’t follow what’s viral, there’s no point in using social media” Nombrado said in a mix of English and Filipino.
He said that audiences should still practice self-restraint from joining every bandwagon.
“Many of what’s trending is actually orchestrated. It’s popular because its popularization is being funded,” the media literacy expert added.
NCC’s Monato said that as the primary decision-maker of the household, mothers can also “immunize” their families from advertisements that promote unhealthy children’s snacks.
“Health behavior is forged at the household level, especially when you are with children and they tend to emulate you,” Monato said.
Affiliate marketing as a source of income 
Compared to the ten years she worked as a production operator — which required her to stand for eight to 10 hours assembling computer parts — Diwa said that she preferred to be a content creator by a long shot.  
But she said that competition with other affiliates has become fiercer.
“It’s because, at TikTok, it’s like you have unlimited income depending on your level of effort,” Diwa added.
The mom influencer said that among her circles, TikTok has not yet flagged an affiliate promoting food items. “It’s whitening products and counterfeit items that they regulate. That’s how my account got suspended in April after I accidentally promoted a product with a fake logo,” she said.
“It’s safer to market food,” Diwa added.
According to Monato, expecting companies to regulate their own marketing practices has been proven “ineffective,” stressing that the government plays a crucial role in policing how products for children are advertised on all platforms.
“Because at the end of the day, they’re on the business side,” Monato added. 
“Children-targeted marketing of unhealthy food and beverages is also a child’s rights issue. So the government needs to come in already.” 

Disclosure: Reporting for this story was made possible with support from ImagineLaw, Inc. This article was produced following editorial guidelines and ImagineLaw did not have input on how the story would be written.

https://qa.philstar.com/headlines/2023/12/28/2321876/moms-drive-sales-unhealthy-childrens-snacks-tiktok-being-its-ambassadors

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