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30 November 2011

Silly Advertiser: Carrots Are For Rabbits!

Keywords: characters, experiment, health, media, preschoolers, Western Europe, advertising, brand characters, vegetables,

Whether it’s a familiar cartoon character or a new and unknown one, brand characters make products more interesting for kids, even those “yucky” vegetables like carrots. Just as long as they’re designed in the right way, according to a paper from the International Communication Association conference. According to the study, unfamiliar cartoon rabbits can sell a matching product like a carrot just as well as the popular, expensive children’s cartoon characters. The researchers showed preschoolers different sets of products and characters and discovered that children like matching sets (rabbit-carrot) better than mismatched ones (rhino-carrot).

Take aways

  • By making healthy food more fun and interesting, well-chosen brand cartoon characters can help kids eat healthier.
  • New and unknown characters can be just as good as the more expensive, popular cartoon characters when they are carefully chosen to match a particular product (like a rabbit and carrot, monkey and banana, or caterpillar and apple)
  • The match should be based on content, such as familiar story lines or media images.

Study information

  • The question?

    How can brand characters best be designed to increase the appeal of vegetables?

  • Who?

    166 Dutch 4- to 6-year-olds

  • Where?

    Various middle-sized cities in the Netherlands

  • How?

    The experimenters showed children pictures of a carrot product combined with different cartoon brand characters. The characters included popular TV cartoons (Dora and Diego from the TV show Dora the Explorer) as well as unknown characters that were more or less related to the product (a rabbit and a rhino). The children then played a game on a touchscreen notebook, which tested how much they liked each character-product combination compared to the others.

Facts and findings

  • Kids liked the popular cartoon characters the best, followed closely by characters that were related to the product (like a rabbit character with a carrot product).
  • In a spontaneous reaction, the children liked the characters that related to the carrot just as much as the popular cartoon characters.
  • Kids didn’t like character-product combinations simply because they matched based on color (like a carrot with an orange cartoon character).
  • The authors explained that kids chose the popular cartoon characters because they have a kind of friendship with them. They also liked less well known characters when they match the product, because that matching brings warm feelings of familiarity as well.
  • Extra fact: In a follow-up study, researchers discovered that the more the children felt the characters matched with the product, the more they liked them over other products.
  • Fun fact: The preschoolers enjoyed using the touchscreen so much that some of them even asked if they could go for a second round. This study was conducted just a few months before the worldwide launch of the iPad.

Figure 1: Kids’ Liking of Product-Character Sets