Tricks Breakfast Cereal Companies Use to Sell to Your Kids

How companies influence sales with kids cereal boxes

  • On average, the characters on kids’ cereals stare down at them at a 9.67 degree angle.
  • Cereal boxes for kids are on average placed at 23 inches above the floor, whereas adult cereal is on average placed 48 inches from the floor.
  • Unlike the kids’ cereal boxes, people found on cereal boxes marketed toward adults look straight ahead.
  • When there is eye contact with a character on a box, there is a 16% increase in “brand trust.”

Do you know why your kids are attracted to all those sugary cereals even before they try them? You might have thought that it had something to do with the big cartoon characters that they use to brand their boxes, and you would be correct. But there is something else that’s going on with those characters that you likely never noticed. According to a new study at Cornell University, those boxes are staring back at your kids, which makes them more trustworthy than all those healthier cereals being marketed toward you.

The study asked two basic questions:

1. Do the characters on cereal boxes make eye contact?
2. Is there a choice influence when characters on cereal boxes make eye contact?

The researchers began by taking 65 different types of children’s cereal with a total of 86 different characters on the boxes from 10 different grocery stores in New York and Connecticut, and looked at where those characters were gazing. They then calculated the angle of the characters gaze at a distance of 4 feet from the shelf, which is the standard distance from where most shoppers view cereal boxes.

These calculations showed that the cereals which are marketed towards children make incidental eye contact with children while those cereals that are marketed toward adults make incidental eye contact with the adults. When evaluating the 86 different characters, 57 of those had a downward gaze at an average angle of 9.67 degrees. The complete opposite was found with adult cereals. On adult cereals, the gaze was nearly straight, with the average gaze at a .43 degree upward angle. The researchers also found that, much like in other previous studies, that the cereals marketed toward children were found on the bottom two shelves while the serial marketed toward adults was found on the top two shelves.

To answer the second question, the researchers studied how eye contact with a cereal box character is able to influence the feelings of trust of a person to that particular brand. In this study, the researchers showed one version of the Trix rabbit that didn’t make eye contact, and another version that did make eye contact to 63 university students. The results were that the students who viewed the Trix cereal boxes which made eye contact trusted the brand 16% more, and they felt they had a “feeling of connection” to the brand at a 28% higher rate than those participants who had boxes where the Trix rabbit did not make eye contact. The same participants indicated that they liked Trix better than another cereal when the rabbit made eye contact as compared to the participants where the rabbit did not make eye contact. This indicated to the researchers that characters on cereal boxes that make eye contact may increase the positive feelings that people have toward the product, and encourage consumers to purchase it.

When the two studies are combined, the researchers concluded that when cereal boxes are designed in such a way that the characters on them makes eye contact with consumers (adult or child), it influences those consumers to purchase the product and it develops brand loyalty. The researchers also suggest that if you are a parent who doesn’t want a shorter child to be influenced by this type of stealth advertising by  kids’ brand cereals, your best course of action is to not take them down the cereal aisle where this influence can be imposed on them. Instead, make your cereal purchases at a time when your kids are not with you, or when they are in another part of the store.

This research confirms what you should have already suspected. Stores and brands will go to great lengths to influence you to purchase products (and your kids), many times in subtle ways that you might not even be aware of when shopping.

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2 Responses to Tricks Breakfast Cereal Companies Use to Sell to Your Kids

  1. Another tactic might be to have your child in the seat of the grocery cart, making them taller. 😉

  2. My seven-year old daughter when she chooses her breakfast cereals, she first looks at the packaging. For me, this is the first thing that attracts the children.

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