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Characters on cereal boxes boost sales

Child in cereal aisle picking out a box of cerealWhile scanning the cereal aisle for healthy options, consumers are probably unaware that the characters on the boxes are influencing their purchases.

A new study out of Cornell University found that consumers are 16 percent more likely to trust a cereal brand when its spokes-character looks consumers directly in the eye. Researchers also reported that the eye gaze of characters on children’s cereal boxes is directed downward at a 9.6-degree angle. Adult cereal boxes, on the other hand, feature characters that look almost straight ahead.

“When you see, for instance, that kids’ cereals are placed a lot lower on the shelves than adult cereal, it’s probably safe to say that is intentional,” said Aner Tal, post-doctoral lab researcher at Cornell University.

According to Tal, other factors likely to influence consumers may not necessarily be intended. For example, the direction of the eye gaze on children’s cereal boxes might be coincidental. Tal speculates that manufacturers may direct character eyes downward so that they’re looking at the bowl of cereal.

“Even if the direction of the gaze is incidental, if people feel like there’s eye contact with the character, it would make them feel more connected to the brand and more likely to choose it,” he said.

Whether intentional or not, grocery stores are laid out in a way that’s designed to increase purchasing. According to Tal, items near the entrance of a store are at a premium location. Particular shelf placement and the general design of the store are also deliberate, he said.

“For example, meats and milk are usually at the end of the store so that when you go to buy those things, you have to pass through other areas where you’ll be likely to buy other things,” said Tal.

By Marianne Hayes