Cartoons hit the sweet spot on children's cereal

Published: 14 August 2017 at 14:39

Woman and daughter looking at a cereal packet

Research shows children’s eyes are drawn to characters on packaging

A cartoon character on a cereal box attracts more attention and is more likely to be chosen by children than the same product type without one, research by Anglia Ruskin University has found.

Researchers asked 214 children aged between three and 16 to wear eye-tracking glasses, which record eye movements, while choosing cereal from a retail display.

The display contained four cereal types, with each type being represented by a cartoon and non-cartoon variant. For each type – frosted flakes, wheats, chocolate rice pops and rice pops – the cartoon version was looked at first, looked at longer and chosen more often.

Cereals featuring cartoon characters were almost 2.5 times more likely to be chosen than non-cartoon cereals. Almost two thirds of children looked at a packet featuring a cartoon first, and looked at the cartoon packets for longer.

Where a cartoon was present in packaging, it was the area seen first. Where no cartoon was present, the product image was seen first. The presence of a cartoon changed the order in which children saw different packaging elements. The effect of the cartoon is to shift attention from the product image and the brand name to the cartoon itself.

Supermarket own brands were used in the research to avoid familiarity with licensed characters.

According to Public Health England, children in the UK consume 50% of their daily recommended sugar intake from cereal and as such the packaging of such products has been the subject of debate. Recently, some companies were criticised over the “scandalous lack of sugar warnings on cereals”, while the Dutch Food Industry Federation announced voluntary measures to remove cartoon characters from unhealthy food products aimed at children.

Tim Froggett, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at Anglia Ruskin University, said:

“Our research shows why using cartoon characters to promote their products is such a popular option for cereal brands. Cartoons catch the attention of children ahead of any other aspect of the packaging, are key determinants of choice and are likely to play a big role in ‘pester power’.

“In light of levels of childhood obesity and the growing pressure on companies to promote healthier eating among children, there could be scope for using cartoon characters to push the sales of low-sugar foods that would otherwise be seen as unappealing by youngsters.”