Banning cereal box cartoon characters shows their influence on children

Press Office

In response to the suggestion that cartoon characters on cereal boxes should be removed to help tackle child obesity Professor Ben Lowe from the Kent Business School explains why such characters have such a sway over children.

‘Banning cartoon characters on cereal boxes is intuitively appealing as a way to combat childhood obesity. There is a good deal of evidence to show that such spokes-characters, often in the form of cartoon characters, lead children to infer better taste and to like the food more.

‘After all that’s why these brands were developed – to make brands more appealing and to give them a clear identity and meaning (Tony the Tiger says “They’re gr-r-reat!” so who are we to say otherwise). With marketing budgets many times those of the policy makers marketers are good at making their products seem fun and cool to kids – that’s what they do. Some researchers have even identified more surreptitious effects. For example, prior research has identified that spokes-characters on children’s cereals make incidental eye contact with children.

‘This eye contact apparently leads to increased trust and connection to the brand along with increased likelihood of product choice over competing brands. Is this by design or coincidental? Though only a small experimental study the results have some interesting implications about how marketers interact with their target markets and the influence this has on their consumers.

‘It is not entirely clear whether or not the proposed changes will have a big impact on children’s’ consumption of sugary cereals. After all there are many influences on food consumption behaviour including the social, the contextual and the cognitive. However, given recent findings publicised in the news about childhood obesity it would seem to be a step in the right direction with no obvious cost.

‘There are likely to be those who make calls for less interference by the state in our consumption decisions and it is not entirely clear how companies will react. But can we afford not to help those who are most vulnerable in society?’

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