If you’ve ever gone grocery shopping with a child, it’s probably not surprising to hear that kids are drawn to cereal boxes with cartoons on them.
But researchers from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab wanted to learn more about exactly why kids fall for certain cereal brands.
Their study confirms that cereals targeted at kids — usually the heavily sugared, less healthy variety — are placed lower on grocery shelves where kids can more easily see them.
Cereals aimed at adults are typically displayed about 48 inches off the ground, while cereals targeted at kids are usually displayed at about 23 inches.
But they also found the cartoon cereal spokescharacters on cereals targeted at kids are actually designed so that their eyes are looking 9.6 degrees down.
Turns out that's the perfect angle to make eye contact with a child standing in the aisle, NBC News reports.
By contrast, cereal boxes targeted at adults had spokescharacters that stared either straight ahead or slightly up at an average angle of inflection of 0.43 degrees.
The kid-friendly eye contact is effective, according to the Cornell study.
When researchers showed kids two different versions of a box of Trix, the box that had the rabbit spokescharacter looking downwards versus straight out increased brand trust by 16 percent and feelings of connection to the brand by 28 percent.
That difference could increase already healthy sales for cereal makers.
MinnPost reports that Frosted Flakes, with its Tony the Tiger character, brings in more than $267 million each year for Kellogg’s. And Honey Nut Cheerios, with its honey-wielding “bee,” rakes in more than $357 million annually for General Mills.
Professor Brian Wansink, one of the study authors, says the findings offer important guidance for parents. He recommends avoiding the cereal aisle if possible.
He also suggests that healthy cereal brands could beat sugar cereal brands at their own game by adding kid-friendly cartoon spokescharacters to their boxes.
“Put Scooby-Doo on the healthy cereals and have Scooby look right at them.”