Brands matter to kids

Brands matter to kids

Spotted a piece of research today that made me happy as a marketer and sad as a parent: researchers in California have shown that when presented with identical samples of McDonald’s food in branded and unbranded packaging, children showed a genuine preference for the branded food:

  • Almost 77% said the branded french fries tasted best while only 13% preferred the non-branded fries

The effect even seemed to apply to foods that might not traditionally be seen as relevant to the McDonald’s brand:

  • 54% preferred McDonald’s-wrapped carrots versus 23% who liked the plain-wrapped sample

While the sample size is quite small (63 children aged 3 to 5 years old), this does provide strong evidence about the role of brands in achieving product differentiation.

In this kind of test if everything else is genuinely the same, then the perceived difference in taste can only logically be attributed to the power of the McDonald’s brand among the children (worth noting that by far the majority of the children had ever eaten at McDonald’s, with a third eating there weekly).

I know from personal experience how my 3 year old recognises logos when we’re out and about – Tesco and B&Q seem to be his favourite, which probably gives a good idea where we regularly spend part of our weekends.

This visual recognition is the first step towards establishing a deeper brand relationship which carries with it values that positively differentiate a brand’s product or service against its competition.

That’s the same for customers of any age. And the research on the McDonald’s brand proves that it even applies to very young children.

Personally I’m depressed by the thought of my boys’ choices being influenced in this way, although working in marketing I do of course realise that this is how the world works. As a parent I guess my role is to try to instill values in my children that allow them to make as independent decisions as possible.

The study’s author, Dr. Tom Robinson, makes the point that “because young children are unaware of the persuasive intent of marketing, (branding and marketing to children) is an unfair playing field”.

That assumes that if people are aware of marketing that its effectiveness is reduced, which probably isn’t the case. All the same, the survey seems to add to the weight of evidence and momentum towards a continuing reduction in marketing to children.

However it’ll take a more sophisticated approach than has been applied to advertising to kids in the UK to counteract the power of branding.

Marketers have to face up to the ethical balance between achieving sales and their broader social responsibilities as corporate citizens.

[tags]branding, mcdonalds, marketing+to+children, differentiation[/tags]


I work with technology-centric businesses as an interim Chief Operating Officer (COO), consultant and advisor. I created the B3 framework® for scaling technology businesses and I write a newsletter called Build for leaders who are building brilliant companies.