Kids took nearly twice as many apples when they had Elmo stickers on them… (Associated Press )
It works for underwear: Just ask Spider-Man. And it’s “grrrrreat” for cereal, as Tony the Tiger can attest. So why not get Elmo to hawk apples?
Turns out it could be good business. Kids took nearly twice as many apples when they had Elmo stickers on them as when they didn’t, researchers from Cornell University said in a letter in the August issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
David Just, co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs, and Brian Wansink, a Cornell marketing professor, noted that much of the food served in schools is provided by outside contractors who brand their products. “There is legitimate concern that branding will make more indulgent foods even more attractive,” they wrote.
They enlisted 208 children, ages 8 to 11, in upstate New York. After taking their school lunch, the children could choose an apple or a cookie, or both. They were offered the foods without a sticker on the first and last days of their five-day experiment. In between they were offered variations on cookies and apples with and without Elmo and with an unknown character.
Just and Wansink said there was no effect of having Elmo on the cookie. (Maybe if they’d used Cookie Monster?) The unknown character also didn’t affect the children’s choices.
As any parent who has had the misfortune of battling through a tantrum at the supermarket can attest, kids want things with their favorite characters on them. So, nutrition advocates and others have suggested using “spokescharacters” to get kids to choose healthful foods.
A study in the same journal in February 2011 found that children’s assessment of the taste of various cereals was affected by “spokescharacters” on the box.
That study concluded that “messages encouraging healthy eating may resonate with young children, but the presence of licensed characters on packaging potentially overrides children’s assessments of nutritional merit.”
If Elmo can pitch apples, maybe Oscar can get kids to compost?