Cereal psychology: Mascot eye contact sparks consumer trust

By Kacey Culliney contact

- Last updated on GMT

Breakfast cereal psychology: Mascots and their eye contact found to be important for trust and brand connection
Breakfast cereal psychology: Mascots and their eye contact found to be important for trust and brand connection

Related tags: Brand, General mills, Breakfast cereal

Mascots on breakfast cereals that gaze directly into a consumer’s line of vision can spark trust; findings that researchers say could be used to fuel growth of better-for-you lines.

Published in the Journal of Environment and Behavior​, scientists from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab found that consumers were 16% more likely to trust a brand of cereal when on-pack characters looked them straight in the eye.

“There are some cool things happening in grocery stores, many based on psychology, that impact how and what people purchase,” ​said Aner Tal, the post-doctoral lab researcher on the study.

The research involved 63 individuals from a private north-eastern university who were asked to rate feelings of trust and connection with brands when presented two versions of a Trix cereal box – one where the rabbit mascot looked into their eyes and the other where the rabbit’s eyes looked down.

In addition to the mascot eye-contact increasing trust, participants said brand connection was 28% stronger.

Participants were asked to look at the original Trix box (left) and an altered version where the rabbit had full eye contact
Participants were asked to look at the original Trix box (left) and an altered version where the rabbit had full eye contact

The researchers said eye contact could increase positive feelings towards the product, and ultimately encourage consumers to buy that brand.

Business potential for healthier cereal brands

Brian Wansink, director of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab, said there was potential for cereal manufacturers to utilize mascot or character eye contact to promote products, particularly healthier kids’ cereals.

“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,”​ he said.

However, he said if parents didn’t want their children to “go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs”,​ not to take them down the cereal aisle.

Kids’ cereal: Cleverly positioned with considered mascot eye line

In a second study within the same research, the scientists investigated the front-of-pack positioning of more than 80 breakfast characters and the shelf position across 65 types of cereal in 10 different grocery stores in New York and Connecticut.

“Not surprisingly”,​ kids’ cereals were positioned at the same height as children – about 23 inches off the floor, the researchers said. Adult cereals were placed higher, at about 48 inches off the floor.

Findings also showed that mascots used on kids’ cereal brands were positioned to gaze downwards to the child, at a 9.6⁰ angle. By contrast, characters on adult cereal brands looked straight ahead.

“The discovery that the spokes-characters marketed to children make incidental eye contact with them as they walk down the cereal aisle may lead them to be more strongly connected to these cereals,”​ the researchers wrote. 

Important implications for healthy cereal NPD

The researchers said that the findings of both studies were of significance because they exposed “another layer to in-store marketing”​ where characters used on cereals drew consumers in not just because of their presence, but based on eye contact as well.

They said that for kids’ cereals in particular, these insights “should be utilized by healthier brands to promote healthier choices and potentially encourage healthier food consumption”.

They added that such marketing could also be used to introduce adults to healthier categories or brands they would have otherwise overlooked during a busy shopping trip.

Separate research published earlier this month in the Journal of Consumer Research​ by researchers from Arizona University and New York University also found an importance in use of mascots on breakfast cereal packs. Their findings indicated that mascots used on kids’ cereals can spark long-term brand loyalty​ – a finding that they said could also be used to engage children better with healthier variants.


Source: Journal of Environment and Behavior
April 2014, online ahead of print. Doi: 10.1177/0013916514528793
“Eyes in the Aisles: Why is Cap’ n Crunch Looking Down at My Child?”
Authors: A. Musicus, A. Tal and B. Wansink

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