General Mills calls kid marketing research ‘absurd’
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the monthly e-zine, CPGmatters.
With restrictions on TV marketing of products aimed at kids that are both voluntary and forced by social pressures, more importance is being placed on how cereals are marketed in the store. General Mills’ recent dustup with Cornell University experts on the psychology of eating illustrates both the opportunities and challenges involved in this pursuit.
In Cornell’s recent study, researchers found that cereals marketed to kids — including General Mills’ Trix — are placed half as high on supermarket shelves as adult cereals. The average angle of the gaze of cereal spokes-characters on cereal boxes marketed to kids was also found to be downward at a 9.6-degree angle, whereas spokes-characters on adult cereal on average looked almost straight ahead.
A research experiment with 63 individuals then found that brand trust was 16 percent higher and the feeling of connection to the brand was 28 percent higher when the rabbit "made eye contact," as Cornell put it.
Takeaways? Cornell said that parents who wanted to avoid having their kids go "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs" should "avoid taking them down the cereal aisle." And "if you are a cereal company looking to market healthy cereals for kids, use spokes-characters that make eye contact with children to create brand loyalty!"
On a General Mills blog site, Tom Forsythe, vice president of global communications, called the findings "absurd," questioning Cornell’s measurement of shelf heights and their ability to read a downward gaze against the wide range of kids’ heights.
Aner Tal, a research associate at Cornell University’s famed Food & Brand Lab, told CPGmatters, "We don’t think it’s necessarily a deliberate, insidious strategy designed to influence children. And even if it were that, it would just be a way of marketing."
Indeed, Mr. Tal believes the study offers lessons on how packaging variables such as characters’ gazes could be used "to promote healthier options" as well as sugary kids cereals. He also noted that food companies should probably give more attention to in-store marketing given how restrictive TV advertising to kids is becoming.
"The in-store environment is crucial," stated Mr. Tal. "Many of the grocery decisions that people make are on the spot and are determined by how they’re feeling at the moment and by what’s happening in their environment, and it’s affected by whether they’re shopping with kids, among other factors."
Do you think the gaze of spokespeople or characters on packages can influence in-store purchases, particularly when it comes to kids? If yes, is there any reason marketers shouldn’t use this knowledge to sell more product?