In a five-day study of 208 children between the ages of 8 and 11 in upstate New York, the researchers provided the children with a different food option of a cookie or fruit, sometimes with a sticker of a character such as Elmo and sometimes without a sticker.
The researchers found children nearly doubled their apple choice if a familiar character had been stickered onto the fruit, but saw no such effect when the sticker was added to a cookie. If the sticker placed on the fruit was unfamiliar to the majority of the children the researchers said they saw no difference from the choice typical for that child.
“Branding has tremendous potential to promote healthier eating,” said Brian Wansink, director of the food and brand lab at Cornell University. “We tend to associate mascots and characters with junk food, but they can also be used to build excitement around healthy foods. This is a powerful lesson for fast-food companies, food activists and people involved in school foodservice.”