Suggestive Advertising for Restaurants

I’m not making this stuff up!

Excerpts reprinted from an article by Crystal Phend, Senior Staff Writer, MedPage Today
Published: March 07, 2011

Seeing Shrek, Dora the Explorer, and other popular animated characters on cereal boxes appears to influence kids’ perceptions of how good the cereals taste, researchers say.

A taste-testing study among 80 young children at a big city shopping center found that those who saw a popular media character on a cereal box liked the cereal’s taste more than those who saw a box with no character on it (mean difference 0.54 on a five-point scale, P=0.01 for effect), according to Sarah E. Vaala, MA, of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and colleagues.

The cartoon characters particularly influenced ratings for cereal with a name that implied it was more sugary than healthy, Vaala and co-authors reported in the March issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

“Messages encouraging healthy eating may resonate with young children, but the presence of licensed characters on packaging potentially overrides children’s assessments of nutritional merit,” they warned in their paper.

Trade characters like McDonald’s Ronald McDonald and licensed characters like DreamWorks’ Shrek have become omnipresent over the past decade in marketing food to kids, particularly less healthy products, noted study co-author Matthew A. Lapierre, MA, also of the University of Pennsylvania.

“There’s a growing body of evidence that these characters are very effective,” he told MedPage Today. “What our study adds is they’re even changing how children experience products … rather than just simple product preference.”

The researchers made four versions of a cereal box that varied only in name (Healthy Bits or Sugar Bits) and presence or absence of a recognizable character on the front (in this case, the dancing penguins from the Warner Brothers movie Happy Feet).

Then 80 children ages 4 to 6 recruited for taste testing at a shopping mall in a large Northeastern city received dry samples of a cereal containing 6 g (0.21 oz) of sugar per serving — an intermediate amount between Cheerios’ 1 g of sugar (0.03 oz) and Fruit Loops Marshmallow’s 16 g (0.53 oz) per serving.

When asked how much they liked the cereal on a five-point smiley face scale with 1 indicating “really do not like” and 5 indicating “really like,” nearly all liked it regardless of packaging.

The taste scores were significantly higher when the box showed the character, though (mean 4.70 versus 4.16).

If pictures on a cereal box can influence how the cereal inside tastes to children, what effect would an attractive, up-scale menu cover and menu presentation have on your diners taste buds? Of course adults are less susceptible to suggestive advertising then are children. No?

#8  in a series of comments and suggestions by Mark R. Strange

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