Cartoon characters on food packages influence children’s perception of taste.
In an experimental study, eighty children were shown professionally created cereal boxes and asked to rate the cereal. Some cereal boxes had licensed cartoon characters on the box and some didn’t. Some cereals were given a healthy-sounding name and some a surgary-sounding name.
Children who were shown cereal from boxes with popular cartoon characters said they liked the cereal more than those who were shown boxes without the cartoon characters.
More children preferred the cereal named “Healthy Bits” than “Sugar Bits,” but the presence of a cartoon character was more influential for children who were told the cereal was named Sugar Bits.
The study, reported on in the March issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, concludes that messages encouraging healthy eating resonates with young children, but use of media characters on food packaging affects the subjective taste assessment of children.
“The use of trade (e.g. Ronald McDonald) and licensed (e.g. Shrek) spokescharacters is a popular marketing practice in child-directed products because the presence of these figures helps children identify and remember the associated product,” the authors wrote.
The visual cue of a popular cartoon character or logo may then be associated with the information presented in the advertisement.
It should come as no surprise that kids are attracted to popular cartoon characters. That’s why advertisers tie food products to licensed characters from movies and television, playing on the vulnerabilities of children. Unfortunately, these tie-ins often promote unhealthy, high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt products.
We parents aren’t supposed to be so easily persuaded, but childhood obesity rates would indicate otherwise. If we would choose to harness the power of cartoon characters to educate children about healthier foods, we’d really be on to something.
Study Source: Arch Pediatr Adoles Med. 2011;165:229-234