Study: The Eyes in the Cereal Aisle are Influencing What You Eat

Did you ever buy a product in the grocery store, bring it home and wonder, “why did I buy this?” Or, have your children ever relentlessly pestered you to purchase a box of cereal or bag of chips even though they’ve never tasted them before?

You may have made the impulse purchase based on how hungry you were when you began your shopping (never grocery shop on an empty stomach if you don’t want to come home with an arsenal of extra food), or because of how convincing the little ones in the shopping cart can be. However, it turns out that the grocery store aisles have eyes – they are watching you and your children and are a major factor in what you place in your cart.

A recent study from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab Research Department set out to find if spokescharacters on packaging do indeed make eye contact with shoppers, and if that eye contact influences their purchases.

For the first part of the study, researchers analyzed 65 types of cereal and 86 different spokescharacters throughout 10 different grocery stores in New York and Connecticut. Their findings showed that the cereals marketed specifically to children, which tend to be those with the most sugar and food colorings, were placed on shelves half as high as healthier versions marketed to adults (23 inches vs 48 inches).

But what was even more interesting, and perhaps more ingenious in the realm of marketing, was that those boxes of sugar-laden cereals marketed specifically to children contained spokescharacters whose eyes aligned directly with children.

The children’s cereal box characters stared down at an angle of 9.6 degrees, directly into the eyes of the average child. The spokescharacters gracing the healthier adult cereal boxes, however, stared directly ahead at an upward 0.43 degree angle.

It’s no surprise that cereal companies design boxes to capture the attention of children. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 80 percent of the food intended for children advertised on television is for sugary sweets and fast food. In fact, sugary cereals are the most heavily advertised children’s food. Cereal companies spent over 264 million dollars in 2011 alone to market these highly processed cereals to unsuspecting children.

Cornell researchers wanted to know if all of the advertising was worth it. Do these mesmerizing spokescharacters actually influence what shoppers purchase? They gathered a group of 63 individuals from a private northeastern university and asked them to look at two different versions of a Trix cereal box. In one box, the iconic Trix rabbit was staring straight at them, while in another he was staring down, resulting in no eye contact.

Results indicated that individuals felt a 16 percent higher trust in the brand and 28 percent more connection to the brand when the rabbit was making eye contact rather than looking away.

cereal aisleThe takeaway message is that you aren’t being paranoid if you feel a set of eyes watching you in the grocery store. Spokescharacters on packaging are staring you (and your children) down for a reason. If you don’t want your children to be influenced by the Trix rabbit or Count Chocula, avoid heading down the cereal aisle with the little ones in tow.

-The Alternative Daily


Recommended Articles