The Trix Rabbit Has Eyes For Your Child: How Eye Contact Influences Consumer Cereal Choices

Lawrence LeBlond for – Your Universe Online

The next time you go shopping you may want to stay out of the cereal aisle if you have your kids in tow. A new study from Cornell University has discovered that cereals marketed to children are oriented about 23 inches (on average) off the ground and have spokes-characters that draw the attention of kids with their gazes.

Researchers Aner Tal and Brian Wansink from Cornell Food and Brand Lab worked with Aviva Musicus from Yale to determine if spokes-characters on cereal make eye contact and if the eye contact influences a child’s choice.

For the study, published in the Journal of Environment and Behavior, the team first conducted an experiment to determine whether the angle of the gaze in spokes-characters on children’s cereal was such that it would create eye contact with most children. The researchers tested 65 cereal brands in 10 different grocery stores in New York and Connecticut and found that of 86 different spokes-characters evaluated, 57 were marketed to children with a downward gaze at an angle of 9.67 degrees.

In contrast, cereals geared toward adult shoppers were placed higher on the store shelves and had spokes-characters that most often looked straight forward or slightly upward at a 0.43-degree angle.

In the stores studied, most of the cereal brands geared toward children were placed on the bottom two shelves (avg. height of 20.21 inches), while the top two shelves were reserved for adult cereals (avg. height of 53.99 inches), a finding that correlates with previous studies on cereal placement.

In a second experiment, the researchers examined the extent to which eye contact influences feelings of trust and connection with the brand. The team recruited 63 individuals from a private northeastern university who were asked to view a box of Trix cereal and rate their feelings of trust and connection to that brand. The participants were randomly shown one of two versions of the spokes-character on the cereal: one with the rabbit looking straight ahead at the viewer and the other with the rabbit looking down.

In the cereal box with the rabbit that made eye contact, the team found that brand trust was 16 percent higher and connection to the brand was 28 percent higher. Also, the participants reported that they liked Trix better, compared to other cereals, when the rabbit made eye contact. This finding indicates that cereal brands with spokes-characters that make eye contact may increase positive feelings toward the product and encourage children and, as seen in this study, adults to buy that particular brand.

The findings in this study indicate that spokes-characters that make eye contact are part of a package design that can be used as a powerful advertising tool to influence consumer habits toward a brand.

“There are some cool things happening in grocery stores, many based on psychology, that impact how and what people purchase,” said Tal in a statement.

“If you are a parent who does not want your kids to go ‘cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs,’ avoid taking them down the cereal aisle. If you are a cereal company looking to market healthy cereals to kids, use spokes-characters that make eye contact with children to create brand loyalty,” said Wansink in a statement.