Branding and packaging influence kids in a big way

15 August, 2007:

Branding and packaging play a big role in what children decide to eat.

Researchers at Stanford University, located in Palo Alto, California, the United States, have found that children tend to rate food wrapped up in McDonald’s-branded paper as tasting better than the same food wrapped in plain paper.

The study surveyed 63 children aged 3 to 5 years, tasting five pairs of identical foods and beverages – one in McDonald’s wrapping and the other in unbranded packaging. The researchers then asked them: “Which one tastes better?”

An overwhelming number of the children said the food in the McDonald’s wrapping was tastier than the others. This applied even to vegetables and milk.

In the study, 61% of the children preferred the taste of carrots and 54% preferred the taste of milk if they were reminded by the packaging that it came from McDonald’s.

The study was released on August 6, 2007, in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

Dr Thomas Robinson, author of the study and professor of pediatrics and medicine at Stanford University, said he was somewhat surprised by the findings. “I expected we would find some effects of branding in this age group, but not this strong, especially for the carrots and milk.”

Food and beverage marketing to children is widespread, representing a $10-billion industry in the United States.

Past research has shown that children aged 2 to 6 years are able to recognise familiar brand names, packaging, logos, and characters and associate them with products. Therefore, the idea that kids in this impressionable age group could be influenced by packaging is not altogether surprising.

According to experts, 3 to 5 years is the age at which kids become most responsive to outward stimuli and are externally driven.

But the new research showed that packaging alone may send strong messages about the taste of the food that the child is about to eat.

The authors of the new study has recommended that advertising directed at children should be regulated or even banned, saying that children younger than 7 to 8 years old do not understand the persuasive intent of advertising.

Kelly Brownell, a professor of psychology at Yale University who specialises in nutrition, agrees with the study. She says: “The results help support calls for limiting marketing to young children and suggest as well that marketing, if done for healthier products, might help make things better.”





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