Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Power of Suggestion

A new study suggests that French fries, chicken nuggets, milk and carrots will get higher reviews from children if they are told the food came from McDonald’s.

Almost 77 percent of kids aged 3 to 5 preferred French fries served in a McDonald's bag over French fries served in a plain white bag. Even with carrots, an item not generally associated with McDonald's, more than 54 thought the branded carrots tasted better.

Walt Riker, a McDonald’s vice president, said “McDonald’s own ‘branding’ of milk, apples, salads, and other fruits and vegetables has directly resulted in major increases in the purchases of these menu items by moms, families and children.” Aha! The real secret, branding is key.

So what if it was served in a Disney bag or a Sesame Street bag? The study didn't look at the more general comparison of brand name vs absence of brand name. How often can you buy food in an unlabeled container? Rarely, at carnivals or amusement parks perhaps, but even those are slowly being covered with advertisements.

Another interesting finding interesting find the researchers reported is that,

"the more television sets in the house, the more likely a child was to prefer McDonald’s branded food, and that three-quarters of the families had toys from McDonald’s in their homes"

This I believe. In the Overspent American by Juliet Schor, many studies are complied to show that the number of television hours viewed directly correlates with spending. This shouldn't be too big a surprise, the more advertisements you are exposed to, the more you buy. Schor wrote another book after Overspent American in that same vain, Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture, which has some amazing statistics (none of which I can actually remember off the top of my head) about how many advertisements children see and process- even at a very young age.

While the McDonald's food preference study is mildly interesting, I think that the real point here lies in not only in packaging, but in brand recognition and advertisement awareness. I bet that kids will statistically favor items in packaging that they recognize over things in plain white packaging, just as the marketing industry has planned.

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