After tasting pairs of identical snacks, a group of children tended to prefer the taste of the snack whose packaging displayed a licensed cartoon character.
This article presents a study of how images of Scooby Doo, Dora the Explorer and Shrek influenced snack preferences. The authors tested two hypotheses: first, that cartoon character packaging would cause children to think a snack tasted better; and, second, that when asked to choose between two identical snacks, children would pick the one in licensed-character packaging.
The study recruited 40 children, ages four to six, and their parents, from child-care centers in New Haven, Connecticut. Researchers presented each child with pairs of identical snacks; for one sample in each pair, the packaging displayed one of the cartoon characters. Snacks included graham crackers, gummy fruit and baby carrots (the items varied in nutritional content). Researchers asked the children to indicate which snack tasted better or if they tasted the same; the children then indicated the degree of their preference on a smiley-face Likert scale. The authors created a taste preference score between –1 and +1 for each child.
- The mean total taste preference score was 0.38, indicating a significant overall preference for snacks packaged with character images.
- Children were significantly more likely to say that they would choose snacks whose packaging displayed one of the characters.
The vast majority of snacks marketed using licensed cartoon characters are junk foods. The findings presented in this article suggest that there should be more regulation of the use of licensed cartoon characters to market snack food to children.