Ever feel like your cereal box is staring at you? If you do, you’re not alone. New research from Cornell University Food and Brand Lab shows the somewhat creepy, blank stares of popular cereal mascots are designed to specifically to stare you down as you decide which brand to buy. They’re also probably part of the reason kids seem to be drawn to sugary, less healthful brands.
The study also found what most of us already know. In stores, cereals targeted at children tend to be on lower, easy-to-reach shelves. They’re also at an optimal height to be in kids’ lines of sight. Healthier “adult” cereals tend to be placed higher up and out of kids’ easy reach.
“By studying more than 80 breakfast spokes-characters, we found that kids’ cereals are positioned at the same height as kids, about 23 inches off of the floor, and adults’ cereals are positioned at about 48 inches off of the floor,” said researcher Aner Tal in a statement.
Though the study was specifically about children’s cereal, it’s interesting to note adults weren’t exempt from the cereal stare. In fact, where adult cereals are placed on the shelves allows the images on the boxes to make eye contact with adults, just as the characters make eye contact with kids.
Eye contact has been shown to increase trust in brands, and when tested, people said they had more positive feelings about a cereal brand when they made eye contact with the image on the box, making them more likely to want or purchase the cereal.
It’s not quite mind control, but it the stare of sugary cereals’ spokes-characters can have an influence on what your kids, and you, want to eat.
“If you are a parent who does not want your kids to go ‘cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs,’ avoid taking them down the cereal aisle,” said Director of Cornell Food and Brand Lab Brian Wansink in a statement. “If you are a cereal company looking to market healthy cereals to kids, use spokes-characters that make eye contact with children to create brand loyalty.”
Image from Cornell University Food and Brand Lab