Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Brand Flakes

(With apologies to Brand Flakes for Breakfast)

The Consumerist today reported on a study from the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication that simply validated every parent's fears: that kids are total suckers for branding.

The study itself is actually four years old, but I'm pretty sure little has changed:

Children who saw a popular media character on the box reported liking the cereal more (mean [SD], 4.70 [0.86]) than those who viewed a box with no character on it (4.16 [1.24]). Those who were told the cereal was named Healthy Bits liked the taste more (mean [SD], 4.65 [0.84]) than children who were told it was named Sugar Bits (4.22 [1.27]). Character presence was particularly influential on taste assessments for participants who were told the cereal was named Sugar Bits.

In other words Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam, the Trix Rabbit, and all those other imaginary dudes have more influence over your children's dietary preferences than you do, and you were right to try to fool them into eating healthier food.

Parents, schmarents! Let's set sail for tooth decay and obesity, kids!

Of course, it's not only kids who are the brand victims. We all are. That's why only Coke will ever taste like Coke, even if the secret recipe is out. Or why trying to clone your favourite fast foods at home is pointless. (And kind of weird.) Our world is the world as we perceive it, and brands often guide our lazy perceptions by providing a short-cut to memory, emotion and experience.

That's the reason competitors to top brands use the blind taste test. You have to block the branding if you want a more accurate comparison. But you'll still have to battle for mindshare on the supermarket aisle.

If this makes you want to admit defeat as a parent, don't.

I have a six-year-old who consistently tells me that McDonald's burgers are better than my naturally-raised, local, aged patties cooked over charcoal. He prefers Kraft Dinner to homemade Mac and Cheese. And he'd rather eat candy than fruit. But that doesn't mean he gets to eat whatever he wants. Those things are given sparingly, as treats, while we keep putting healthy meals in front of him. He eats real food, and quite often enjoys it, even as he pines for the branded foods he sees on TV. But YMMV.

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