Friday, September 28, 2012

Marketing Veggies to Kids: X-Ray Vision Carrots and Dinosaur Tree Broccoli

It's been a while since I have written something new for the blog. Alas, I have been extremely busy. I do have some ideas bubbling in my brain that I plan to get on the page sooner or later. But today I read two short articles that deserve a quick mention, so I felt I had to write!

Researchers wondered whether the same marketing strategies that make kids enthusiastic about junk foods could also work for health foods. Based on a small scale study, it looks like the answer is a resounding yes!

In five local elementary schools, researchers David Just and Brian Wansink added carrots to the school menu for three consecutive days. On the first and third days, the carrots went unnamed on the lunch line. On the second day, however, researchers named the carrots "X-Ray vision carrots" at some locations and "food of the day" at others. The names did not change how many carrots were purchased, but they did have a tremendous impact on how many of those carrots actually got eaten.

When carrots were unnamed, 35% were eaten. When named "Food of the Day," 32% were eaten. When named "X-Ray vision carrots," 66% were eaten. The carrots with the fun name had nearly double the consumption rate of the unnamed carrots!

Another experiment compared two nearby New York City schools. For one month, both schools had vegetables with no names. In the second month, one school gave fun titles to carrots, green beans, and broccoli, while the other continued without naming the foods. In the school with the titles, vegetable sales nearly doubled (+99%), and in the school without the names, veggie sales actually decreased 16%.

As I have said before, correlation doesn't mean causation, and these were pretty small studies. At the same time, my intuition has me convinced already. It's pretty amazing that a no-cost method of advertising may have such a profound influence on kids. This also has potential implications for how parents may "market" nutritious foods in the home. The CNN article, for example, mentions a child whose parents encouraged him to pretend he was a dinosaur eating trees, and that helped him to eat more broccoli!

It remains to be seen whether this tactic would work longer term (once the initial excitement of a new vegetable name wears off). And of course, X-ray vision may not offer the same appeal to older children. But marketing tactics are used every day in other ads targeting a wide range of age groups, and brands are constantly reshaping their images for new and exciting advertising. I don't see why these methods could not be cleverly applied to vegetables, as well. Advertising professionals and shrewd parents - I see a new place you can make an impact for the good!

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