Branding affects tastebuds …

I don’t know whether to be proud of the marketing industry (marketing is clearly working in this example!) or ashamed. A recent study found that branding (in this case McDonald’s) actually makes food products taste better.

mcdonalds packaging

Study author Dr. Tom Robinson said the kids’ perception of taste was “physically altered by the branding.” The Stanford University researcher said it was remarkable how children so young were already so influenced by advertising. Even carrots, milk and apple juice tasted better to the kids when they were wrapped in the familiar packaging of the Golden Arches.

The study had 63 “poor” youngsters aged 3-5 sample identical McDonald’s foods in name-brand and unmarked wrappers. The unmarked foods always lost the taste test. Robinson believes the results would be similar for children from wealthier families.

Here are a few statistical, er, “highlights”

– Just two of the 63 children studied said they’d never eaten at McDonald’s, and about one-third ate there at least weekly.

– Almost 77% said McDonald’s-labeled fries tasted better; only 13% preferred the fries in generic packaging.

– 54% preferred McDonald’s-wrapped carrots, versus 23% pointing to the plain-wrapped sample.

– Only in the case of hamburgers were the results not clear-cut: 29 kids chose McDonald’s-wrapped burgers; 22 chose unmarked ones.

– Fewer than one-fourth said both samples of all foods tasted the same.

supersize me

Obviously I think a lot of account planners will be pretty pleased about this, being as their expertise is partly shaping and engineering brands and turning commodities into meaningful, differentiated and (hopefully) top-selling products … now we learn with the power to affect the perception of taste.

Secondly, the study likely will stir more debate over the movement to restrict ads targeted to kids. It comes less than a month after 11 major food and drink companies, including McDonald’s, announced new curbs on marketing to children under 12. This has been a particularly hot topic in the UK, with a proposed ban on all junk food advertising to kids…

McDonald’s says the only Happy Meals it will promote to young children will contain fruit and have fewer calories (er, not a particularly challenging benchmark) and less fat. “The fact is, parents make the decisions for their children and our research confirms that we’ve earned their trust as a responsible marketer based on decades of delivering the safest food,” spokesman Walt Riker said.

There is no doubt that children are, and always have been particularly susceptible to marketing … I mean, which one of us wasn’t desperate for KerPlunk or Sea Monkeys? Or am I alone in that!

We should take solace that the situation used to be more extreme … who knew that in the 1950s, the Winston cigarette’s pitchman was none other than Bedrock resident Barney Rubble …

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