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Cereal box cartoon characters drawn to make downward eye contact with children as marketing tactic

Saturday, April 05, 2014 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: cereal boxes, cartoon characters, marketing to children

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(NaturalNews) The hypnotizing eyes of all those colorful cartoon characters featured primarily on children's cereal boxes play a major role in keeping both kids and even some adults addicted to eating them, suggests a new Cornell University study. Researchers there observed that many popular cereal brands feature tantalizing cartoon characters whose eyes have been designed to intentionally look downward from the shelf, making direct eye contact with innocent young ones as they stroll down the cereal aisle with their parents.

It is this direct eye contact, say researchers, that keeps kids nagging their parents for more -- presumably by establishing what, at least to a child, feels like an intimate, personal connection. After studying the designs of 86 different spokes-characters emblazoned on 65 different cereal brands, including popular children's cereals like Quaker's Cap'n Crunch and Kellogg's Honey Smacks, the team discovered that the average cartoon character on a children's cereal box stares down at about a 9.6 degree angle, directly into the eyes of young children.

Performing their work at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab in Ithaca, New York, Aner Tal and his colleagues made calculations based not only on the height placement of cereal boxes as they sit on the shelf but also on the careful design elements printed on the front of their boxes. Children's cereals, it turns out, are typically placed just a few feet from the ground, where their characters can stare directly down at children. And some adult cereals featuring spokes-characters or even humans do the same thing, just higher up on the shelf.

"For cereal marketed to adults, the average height was 53.99 inches," wrote the authors, pointing out that these same cereals typically make eye contact at a level height, while the children's cereals look slightly downward. "[T]he average gaze height for cereal marketed to children was 20.21 inches, indicating that spokes-characters' eyes... were differently targeted at different heights depending on whether they were adult or children cereals."

Marketing junk cereal to children a $3 billion annual industry

A second part of the study looking at how this type of marketing influences both children and adults found that making eye contact gives cereal manufacturers an "in" when it comes to building loyalty and maintaining steady customers. At least as far as children and young adults are concerned, the research team found that characters making eye contact helps increase brand loyalty by an average of 16 percent.

"Making eye contact with the spokes-character on the cereal box fosters positive interpersonal feelings, which may transfer to the cereal itself," explains the team. "A child going shopping with his parents and making eye contact with Tony the Tiger or Toucan Sam may begin to feel positive feelings and a sense of connection with the characters, which may translate to the child's feelings towards the cereal itself."

This connection is obviously a key component of the cereal industry's marketing strategy for success, as cereal companies collectively pour billions of dollars annually into developing these types of designs. Playing on human emotions, in essence, is so powerful that it convinces millions of families and their children to repeatedly purchase over-processed, sugar-laden junk food pretending to be a healthy breakfast.

"Cereal is the second most widely advertised food to children besides fast food, and cereal companies spend more money marketing their products to children than any other packaged food sector," reveals the study. "In the U.S., $3 billion in total is spent annually on packaging designed for children, since packaging is regarded as particularly important to attract consumers."

You can download a PDF file of the study here:

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