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Characters for Health (and wealth)

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The results of a recent study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine that found that the presence of a spokescharacter on a cereal box positively affected the child’s opinion of the cereal got me thinking. Can cartoon characters also be used to sell healthy foods? Why not? Spokescharacters such as Ronald McDonald and Tony the Tiger have helped with brand recognition and sales for years. McDonald’s latest campaign asks kids to go to the Happy Meal website where they can send a Ronaldgram to friends or compose a picture with him.

Children and teens control over $200 billion of spending money per year through food purchases and requests. Given that children respond to visual cues when deciding on which brand of food they want to eat, it is particularly important to look at how advertising can work in tandem with promoting healthy foods. If kids respond to the character, the logical next step is that sales of that product will increase. Why not have a spokescharacter for fruits and vegetables? Or milk? Should there be legislature to ban spokescharacters on foods that have little to no nutritional value? I think all of these possibilities can help businesses make money by increasing sales of healthy foods and downplaying the appeal of unhealthy foods. It’s time to help educate the next generation so that they can make the right choices for a healthy lifestyle.

Craving more? You can find a comprehensive overview of how advertising influences children in the book “Food Marketing to Children and Youth – Threat or Opportunity?” published by the Institute of Medicine and available to read online.

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