Mmmm…. McCarrots and McMilk

The AP reports on a study of 63 poor children that found the kids preferred food in McDonald’s wrappers over identical unmarked food. The golden arches cast a golden halo over even healthy items such as carrots and milk. The research also tested reactions to hamburgers, chicken nuggets and french fries.

Study author Dr. Tom Robinson said the kids’ perception of taste was “physically altered by the branding.” The Stanford University researcher said it was remarkable how children so young were already so influenced by advertising.

The study involved 63 low-income children ages 3 to 5 from Head Start centers in San Mateo County, Calif. Robinson believes the results would be similar for children from wealthier families.

The full article is available at the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.

The food item for which the brand had the least effect: the hamburger. 48% preferred the McDonald’s branded hamburger, 37% preferred the unbranded (but also McDonald’s) burger and 15% had no preference or didn’t answer. The biggest difference was in french fries, with 76.7% preferring the McDonald’s branded fries.

Aside from the headline grabber, I found this note in the results interesting: “Children needed to be told which food was from McDonald’s for 20.6%, 30.2%, 22.2%, 33.3%, and 27.0% of the hamburger, chicken nuggets, french fries, milk/apple juice, and carrot comparisons, respectively.” The marketing couldn’t have been all that effective if 1/5 to 1/3 of the time the kids didn’t recognize the McDonald’s branding. (These children were significantly more likely to have come from Spanish-speaking households.)

The study found that preferences for McDonald’s branded food was greater among children who ate more frequently at McDonald’s and those who came from households with more televisions.


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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