The Influence of Brand Equity Characters on Children's Food Preferences and Choices

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Abstract

Objectives

To assess the influence of brand equity characters displayed on food packaging on children's food preferences and choices, 2 studies were conducted. Brand equity characters are developed specifically to represent a particular brand or product. Despite existing literature suggesting that promotional characters influence children's food choices, to date, no research has assessed the influence of brand equity characters specifically.

Study design

We recruited 209 children 4-8 years of age from schools and childcare centers in the UK. In a mixed-measures design, the children were asked to rate their taste preferences and preferred snack choice for 3 matched food pairs, presented either with or without a brand equity character displayed on packaging. Study 1 addressed congruent food–character associations and study 2 addressed incongruent associations. Participants were also asked to rate their recognition and liking of characters used. Wilcoxon signed-rank tests and χ2 analyses were used where appropriate.

Results

Children were significantly more likely to show a preference for foods with a brand equity character displayed on the packaging compared with a matched food without a brand equity character, for both congruent and incongruent food–character associations. The presence of a brand equity character also significantly influenced the children's within-pair preferences, within-pair choices, and overall snack choice (congruent associations only).

Conclusions

Displaying brand equity characters promotes unhealthy food choices in children. The findings are consistent with those of studies exploring other types of promotional characters. In the context of a childhood obesity epidemic, the use of brand equity characters in the promotion of foods high in fat, salt, and sugar to children should be restricted.

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