News flash: Children are influenced by advertising


Anything in a McDonald's wrapper tastes better, according to children ages 3 to 5. Even something like carrots taste better if you put them in a McDonald's wrapper or cup.

Comments (27)
  1. MaryD008 says:

    My kids can spot a McDonalds ad from a mile away. Even though they have only ever been in a place a couple of times in their lives.

    Mary

  2. TJ says:

    Microsoft should try wrapping Windows Vista in McDonald’s packaging and then the Windows haters will decide it’s the best thing ever.

  3. Boris says:

    This is really meaningless unless someone shows that they like McDonald’s carrots over off-brand hamburgers or fries. In fact, the only statistically insignifficant difference is in McDonald’s core food. All this shows is that kids like hamburgers and, by extension, anything associated with where you can buy one.

  4. tsrblke says:

    @Boris,

    Did you read the article?  The point merely was that the wrapper itself influenced their decision. Not that they prefered healthy food when it came from McD’s. In fact they fed them plain wrapped McD’s burgers and they said they said the McD’s ones wrapped tasted better.  (Even though they were the same thing.)  A more intreguing question is, would the result have been the same if they had used a more obscure restruant as a 3rd control.

  5. Gabe says:

    tsrblke: Even more interesting would be if they used a non-food brand, like Disney, as their control.

  6. Boris says:

    I did read the article and, what it said, was that hamburgers was the only item where a statistically significant difference was not found. Since a burger is the main part of a typical McDonald’s meal (it was in their name all those years ago), it renders the study’s results suspect. The study does not report whether the children liked burgers better than other food presented to them, but I suspect this is the case. Given all this, it appears that they like McDonald’s by association with hamburgers more than because of advertising. Although a case can be made that the children found out about the fact that one can buy hamburgers at McDonald’s, it is a much different claim than "omg advertising brainwashes your kids". Security by obscurity is a bad idea anyway.

  7. Absotively says:

    @Boris

    It would make more sense to try repeating this with a larger sample size than to try comparing carrots and hamburgers.  A carrots-vs-hamburgers study would remove the main control, ie the branded and unbranded foods actually being the same.  You’d have to have control groups with both the hamburger and the carrots either branded or unbranded to sort out how many children prefer which without the branding, and if you’re going to study that many more children, you might as well do this study again with the larger sample, since that would probably give clearer results.

  8. Josh says:

    Given the age of the participants, I’m wondering how much simple stimulation of the senses could account for this.  I remember (faintly) that in my youth, the color of something affected my opinion of it ("I do not like green eggs and ham).  Is it possible that some of the effect isn’t due to McDonald’s itself, but rather, the additional colors on a McDonald’s wrapper (over the presumably drab unmarked wrapper)?

    Comparing to Disney might test that theory, but it would be skewed by the relative importance attached to each brand.  Perhaps by making the wrappers for the control use McDonald’s colors, but in a way clearly divergent from the McDonald’s branding, you might be able to remove the influence of the "pretty colors" effect?

  9. bobn says:

    Can we not just dissect their brains?

  10. Someone You Know says:

    @Josh

    If you’re not color-blind, colors are an important part of the branding. I’m not sure it’s possible to fully separate them the way you’re suggesting. For example, many Americans associate things that have red, white, and blue stripes with the American flag, but the American flag doesn’t have stripes like that. The red/white/blue striped bunting you see at Independence Day celebrations is actually much more like a Dutch flag (or French, depending on how it’s oriented).

    However, your idea could be tested by offering the children a choice between McDonald’s food in a McDonald’s wrapper, and McDonald’s food in an equally colorful wrapper whose colors did not reflect any particular existing branding scheme. If in this case the children showed no strong preference, it would lend credence to the idea that it’s sensory stimulation (and not the specific branding) that attracts them.

  11. Alexandre Grigoriev says:

    Regarding colors, I’ve read (maybe on this blog) that colors from the warm side of the spectrum stimulate appetite, and that the pictures in the commercials are intentionally tweaked for warmer colors. No surprise that McD colors are red and yellow.

  12. ChrisMcB says:

    @Boris I’m not sure how this study is meaningless.

    It isn’t comparing apples to oranges. The kids like the McDonald’s carrots twice as much as the non McDonald’s carrots, despite the fact the carrots were the same. This is significant. They weren’t trying to say kids will choose a McDonald’s carrot over a noname hamburger. That is just silly.

    But I don’t think this is so much about marketing, as it is about, well McDonald’s. For me growing up, going to a place like McDonald’s was a treat. It was special, of course anything from there would taste better. Because it is from McDonald’s. It wasn’t the commercials that told me this, it was just me having happy memories of eating there before.

    To me the thing that is interesting, I like McDonald’s because of its tasty burgers. Because of a study like this, McDonald’s may add fruit cups to their happy meal. Now current kids may find the McDonald’s fruit better. But new kids, well McDonald’s won’t be as special anymore, cause it is the same fruit mom made them eat last night.

  13. Boris says:

    @Chris,

    This is precisely what I was trying to say. I don’t mean the study meaningless. It’s just that the wrong conclusions are being drawn. The fact that hamburgers were the one food that there was no statistical difference in implies to me that the kids like McDonald’s because of the hamburgers and not vice versa. If McDonald’s suddenly stops selling burgers now and keeps advertising in the same way, nothing else changes, children not previously familiar with McDonald’s would not have the bias. Even those that are will lose it in hurry. Kid’s are not stupid. If they simply add fruit cups to their existing happy meals, they might be able to maintain their market.

  14. frymaster says:

    in the UK, mcdonalds started selling apples at cost price.  No profit on them whatsoever.  Of course, they were hopelessly unpopular, and out of a box of, say, 24 apples, they’d maybe sell 1 before it went out of date.  Result: mcdonalds stops selling apples (though they brought out a mixed-fruit chunk bag that’s popular with kids, and has a longer sell-by date because it’s in sealed bags)

  15. someone else says:

    @bobn

    That might be best, for many a reason.

  16. Eugene says:

    "that in my youth, the color of something affected my opinion of it ("I do not like green eggs and ham)."

    Ugh. I’m not so young anymore, but I wouldn’t like green eggs too. My worst case of food poisoning ever came, most likely, from a spoiled egg.

  17. Icarus says:

    In other news the sky is blue…

  18. Merus says:

    I’m told by my parents that when I was a kid I begged my parents to take me to McDonald’s despite not knowing what they sold, and after having some of their food, not really liking it that much.

  19. It says "Just two of the 63 children studied said they’d never eaten at McDonald’s, and about one-third ate there at least weekly."

    As they are children from low-income families, and going out to McDonalds is a cheap way for their parent(s) to provide them with a meal out, is it really that surprising or sinister that they would associate McDonalds wrapping paper with enjoyable food?

    What does this have to with advertising, mind control, etc? It’s just a sandwich shop, it’s not Zombie Hitler taking over the world.

  20. Someone You Know says:

    @Daniel Earwicker

    I think you just ZombieGodwined this thread.

  21. Random832 says:

    @frymaster, Burger King in the US sells sliced apples in a french fries style cardboard thing – were the McD’s apples packaged this way, or were they just plain apples?

  22. Anonymous Coward says:

    Hmm. I don’t know what to make of this. As a kid I didn’t think McDonald’s fries and hamburgers were particularly good, I much preferred the Febo. (Note: if you look up that name on the internet, you’ll get the impression that those are just walls of automatics. But in the region where I lived as a kid they were pretty much proper restaurants, with tables and chairs and waiters and such.) And proper Flemish fries if I could get them, but the normal snack bars didn’t sell those at the time. Anyway, I still think that most of McDonald’s food tastes characterless and bland, but rather than going to a different snack bar I prefer to bake my own burgers if I feel like it.

    Still, the study makes me worry. Would it be feasible to let kids grow up without advertising? When I was a kid, most of the ads on television where aimed at adults, I especially liked the insurance company ads. The only ad for kids that I remember was for Haribo and we all hated it because it was annoying. And it was pretty pointless anyway, because back then kids didn’t decide what kind of candy their parents would buy.

  23. Doug says:

    Would you prefer a present wrapped in attractive paper and tied with a bow, or in a torn plastic bag?

    Perhaps it is the presentation that is important and not so much the brand.

    Seems to be an inconclusive experiment.

  24. Friday says:

    Now I understand the Mojave Experiment.

  25. And yet people still treat any suggestion of regulation of advertising at kids as insane authoritarianism…

  26. CmraLvr2 says:

    The people who did this study have waaaay to much time on their hands.

  27. Eff Five says:

    I don’t know if I buy the direct correlation to marketing. If they tried the same experiment but with a fictitious brand they might get the same results, which would just show that any brand did better than no brand.

    It may just be the toddler version of the study that wine with a bigger price tastes better.

    See the article at http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/why-expensive-wine-tastes-better.htm Note the really creepy domain.

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