The researchers took two well-known sweetened breakfast cereal mascots – Frosties’ Tony the Tiger and Cocoa Pops’ Coco the Monkey. It took 177 adults born and raised in the UK, who all had been exposed to early TV ads for these brands, and assessed what reactions and emotions these brands and mascots triggered among them. They found that adults continued to hold long-term positive feelings towards the characters and the brands’ nutritional profile if they had been exposed to advertising before age 13.
The study concludes that likeable characters or mascots in advertising to children can have very long term pay-offs for the brand and, from a public health perspective, may lead to biased decision-making among adults exposed to them.
Previous research has found that children incrementally learn how to cope with advertising as they age. The current research investigates whether these developmental constraints in advertising knowledge at time of exposure have enduring consequences. Results from four experimental studies show that childhood exposure to advertisements can lead to resilient biased product evaluations that persist into adulthood. Study 1 demonstrates that positive affect toward ad-related stimuli encountered in childhood mediates the relationship between childhood advertising exposure and biased evaluations for products associated with childhood (but not adulthood) advertising. Study 2 demonstrates stronger biases when participants are exposed to childhood advertising cues relative to childhood consumption cues. Studies 3 and 4 show that even when ability and motivation to correct bias are high, lingering positive affect toward childhood ad-related stimuli is a motivational deterrent to correct biased product evaluations. Study 4 also shows that biased product evaluations can transfer to line extensions.
Connell P. M., Brucks M., Nielsen J. H., 2014, Advertising Exposure Can Create Biased Product Evaluations That Persist into Adulthood, Journal of Consumer Research