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Brand Loyalty

May 5, 2008

I was leafing through a magazine today when I came across the following snippet:

“Children ages three to five who were offered identical food–half in McDonald’s packaging and half in similar packaging but without the brand name–strongly preferred the food in McDonald’s wrappers. Nearly 60% said McDonald’s-branded chicken nuggets were tastier, compared with 18% who preferred the identical unbranded ones…77% preferred branded french fries, compared with 13% who preferred unbranded ones. Kids who lived in homes with TVs and those who often ate at McDonald’s were the most likely to prefer the food in brand-name wrappers.”

(Source: Thomas Robinson, MD, director, Center for Healthy Weight, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, Stanford, and leader of a study of 63 children, published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.)

Isn’t that interesting? If you asked me, I’d say sure, kids are going to prefer the glitz and glamour of McDonald’s food over regular ole’ chicken nuggets, but 60% compared to 18%? And 77% and 13% for french fries? The power and influence McDonald’s has over children is truly remarkable. They could literally be serving children poop nuggets and the kids would prefer them over generic brands.

When I was a kid, McDonald’s (or Burger King) was a treat. My mom took my brother and sister and I to get fast food about once a month. I remember relishing in the sweet fakeness of those burgers and fries, savoring each bite as if it were my last.

To tell the truth, if you pulled this test on me as a kid, I’d be in the group that preferred the branded versions to the nonbranded versions. I mean, I got chicken nuggets all the time as a kid, but on the fast-food versions were treats, exceptions to the rule. What I’m curious about is how many kids today view McDonald’s as a treat instead of a regular meal? If you ask a child to draw a meal, do they draw tofu stir fry, salad, and a glass of milk, or does their vision include fries as the veggie and soda as the drink?

If McDonald’s is the norm for today’s kids, why does the brand preference remain intact? If it’s not a special treat, why would brand matter? Wouldn’t flavor having more bearing?

Also, if this psychological preference is built into us at such a young age, how does it affect us now? When I buy allergy medicine at the grocery store, my instinct is to get the branded version, even though the generic version is literally the exact same formula. I have to fight that instinct and make the cost-efficient purchase. What other products are identical, but we nonetheless succumb to the safety and comfort of the name brand?

Think about that while you munch on your poop nugget.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    May 6, 2008 8:52 am

    I’ll try and remain the optimist. This news may not be so terrible after all. Perhaps we can harness powerful marketing for the better as branding could make it easier to sell more nutritious foods to folks in what is an epidemic era of obesity. The numbers are alarming and this is impacting our kids in a baffling way. But by wrapping healthier foods in the much loved McDonald’s type “branded” packaging just maybe we’ll be able to trick their young minds into healthier lifestyles so they can better lead the world when you’re 85 and have no social security.

    Who am I kidding? When given the option, I’d pass up McDonald’s beets any day for a poop nugget, no matter the packaging.

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