But what if branding could be used in a more positive way? A recent study set out to examine just that.
Researchers enrolled 208 children from upstate New York into a study to examine the effects of branding on food choices. The children went through a lunch line where they chose an entrée and then had the option to choose 1 or both of the last items: a cookie and/or an apple. The test was carried out over 5 days, with the 1st and last days being controls – neither item was branded. On the 3 test days, the following combinations were used:
- Elmo sticker-branded cookie and unbranded apple
- Unbranded cookie and Elmo sticker-branded apple
- Unbranded cookie and Unknown-character-branded apple
The results? The children were more likely to choose an apple when it had an Elmo sticker on it. In fact, almost double the number of apples were chosen!
Somewhat surprisingly, the Elmo sticker did not influence their choice of the cookie. Perhaps the children already liked cookies to the degree where branding did not influence choices. Apples are typically a “harder sell” then cookies, so perhaps the positive branding worked better in that situation. There was also no effect of the unknown character branding on the apple, indicating children may be more attracted to branding from characters they already know in television and stories.
It would be interesting to see how this could work in elementary school lunch rooms with positive branding on the fruit and vegetable choices. If you think it would be successful in your child’s school, ask your school wellness committee to try this out! Also, consider a way you can use this in the home environment: you could place fun stickers on the healthy snacks to encourage children to choose those options. For younger kids, this might be an easy way to make clear which snacks are appropriate "everyday snacks."
What do you think? Can we use food branding to our advantage for health? Or will kids get over the excitement of it after a while?