My Topics

9 May 2012

Cartoon Characters Make Products Taste Better

Keywords: brands, experiment, health, preschoolers, brand placement, product packaging,

The use of a cartoon character on food packaging has a positive influence on children’s product experience, according to a study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.The study confirms that such characters can increase the taste assessment of cereals among children. However, children liked the taste of products labeled as healthy better than products labeled as sugary. Interestingly, the presence of a popular cartoon character is more important for children’s taste assessment than a healthy brand name.

Take aways

  • Preschoolers like the taste of food products better when a popular cartoon character is present on the packaging.
  • Preschoolers have more positive associations with healthy words than with unhealthy words. Therefore, the use of a healthy product name leads to a more positive taste assessment.

Study information

  • The question?

    How does the use of popular cartoon characters and healthy versus unhealthy brand names on food packaging affect children’s taste evaluation?

  • Who?

    80 4- to 6-year-olds (mean age: 5.6 years; 53% girls, 47% boys).

  • Where?

    Northeast USA.

  • How?

    An experiment was conducted. Children were shown one out of four versions of a cereal box. The boxes were identical, except for the naming (Healthy Bits versus Sugar Bits) and the presence of a familiar media character (Happy Feet versus no character). The children were offered a small amount of the cereal to taste and were asked to indicate how much they liked the taste of the cereal and if they recognized the character on the box.

Facts and findings

  • Children liked the taste of cereals better when there was a popular cartoon character on the product packaging and when the cereals had a healthy brand name.
  • They also liked the taste of cereals with a healthy brand name better than cereals with a unhealthy brand name. An explanation for this finding is that children have a negative association with the word “sugar,” because they are often told by their parents that sugar is not good for them.
  • Another explanation for this finding is that the taste of the cereals with the unhealthy brand name didn’t meet the expectations of the children. The cereal had a moderate sugary taste, and the children may have been disappointed by the lack of sugary flavor in the cereal named Sugar Bits and pleasantly surprised by the sugary flavor in the cereal named Healthy Bits.
  • The presence of a cartoon character was more important than the naming of the cereals: children liked the taste of cereals out of a box with a character on it best, regardless what the name of the cereal was. 
  • Fun fact: Children liked the taste of the “healthy” product better than the same cereal named “sugar bits.” This was remarkable given the fact that children generally like sweets.