Recognisable childhood figures such as Frosties' mascot Tony the Tiger could continue to influence the food choices people make even as adults, according to the results of a new study.
The research, How Childhood Advertising Exposure Can Create Biased Product Evaluations That Persist into Adulthood suggests the advertising characters children are exposed to, such as Tony, could make them feel more positive about the nutritiousness of the products as adults.
This happens because recognisable characters such as Tony the Tiger and Ronald McDonald lead to an ‘enduring bias’ that favour advertised products.
In the study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, lead author Dr Paul Connell and his team asked 177 adult participants to look at one of two sets of images.
The first were of advertising characters that would have been widely circulated when the participants were young. The second were images of advertising characters that were also widely advertised, but not until after participants had reached adulthood.
Participants were then asked to report their feelings about the characters in the ads, and rate the products featured in the ads on how healthy they were.
People rated pre-sweetened cereals and french fries as healthier when they were exposed to ads for these products as children.
Participants who had been exposed to food-related childhood advertising before the age of 13 were more likely to hold a bias in favour of the products as adults.
The results have led to Dr Connell concluding parents should consider how much advertising their young children are exposed to.
Dr Connell said: “People should check the labels the products they’ve loved since childhood. It’s possible that affectionate feelings for brand characters mean they are overlooking relevant nutritional information.
“At the same time, this research suggests that public health and safety campaigns aimed at children may affect them throughout their lives—but only if children develop positive feelings for the ads.
“We recommend that health-oriented media campaigns targeted at children should aim to relate to children on an emotional level, for example, by emphasizing loveable characters and fun narratives.”