New Research Offers First Proof that Ads We See as Children Still Shape Our Beliefs as Adults
TUCSON, Ariz. – March 26, 2014 – There’s an age-old tip for indoctrination: “Get them while they’re young.” Now a landmark series of studies from the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona and the College of Business at Stony Brook University shows just how far that maxim goes when it comes to kids and advertising.
Think Your Adult Brain Decides What’s Healthier? Think Again.
In what they believe is the first study to examine how childhood marketing affects us as adults, the researchers used images of brand name foods and the characters used to market them to children — Ronald McDonald and french fries, for example — in a series of four studies designed to rule out alternative explanations when the findings are looked at as a whole.
Three clear phenomena emerged:
- When thinking about two sugary cereals — one with a character we remember from childhood and one after our time — we see the one from our own childhood as healthier;
- That favoritism persists, even after our “adult brains” are primed to think about things like nutrition, exercise and even how children are especially vulnerable to advertising;
- The biases are so ingrained that we bring them to thoughts about new products in the same brand family that might exist at some point down the road.
Using Childhood Biases to Our Advantage: Marketing as a Force for Good
The findings are both sobering and promising, the researchers suggest. On one hand, they’re a wake up call: Even when we think we’re making adult choices at the grocery store, those beloved tigers and rabbits from childhood commercials may still be pulling strings.
"A lot of children's advertising has been around for more than a half a century,” said Merrie Brucks, one of the professors behind the study. “Parents should consider that their judgments about products that had ads they saw as children might be clouded."
The researchers also suggest that parents teach their children early that ads are not like other cartoons — they they’re meant to make us believe things and that they don’t have all the information we should want.
On the other hand, the studies also suggest how white-hat marketers can use these “back doors” to lifelong beliefs to their advantage. Anti-smoking campaigns, for example, might be more effective throughout our lives if built on characters we first learn to love as kids.
Findings from the study, conducted by Brucks and Jesper H. Nielsen of the University of Arizona in collaboration with Paul M. Connell of State University of New York at Stony Brook will be published in the June 2014 issue of Journal of Consumer Research.
The Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona is internationally recognized for pioneering research, innovative curriculum, distinguished faculty, excellence in management information systems, entrepreneurship, and social responsibility. U.S. News & World Report ranks the Eller undergraduate program No. 11 among public business schools and two of its programs are among the top 20 — Entrepreneurship and MIS. U.S. News & World Report ranks the Eller MBA Full-Time program No. 48 in the U.S. In addition to a Full-Time MBA program, the Eller College offers the No. 25-ranked Evening MBA program, the Eller Executive MBA and the Online MBA. The Eller College of Management supports more than 5,800 undergraduate and 800 graduate students on the UA campus in beautiful Tucson, Arizona, and on its satellite campus in downtown Phoenix.
Liz Warren-Pederson, Eller College of Management
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