Time Magazine is reporting a new study by Stanford researchers that states that kids age 3-5 statistically prefer a hamburger when it appears in a McDonald’s wrapper versus the exact same hamburger when it appears in plain packaging. Time’s argument goes that more regulation is required to protect children from the influence of corporate advertising.
On average, 48% of the kids said they preferred the taste of the McDonald’s labeled hamburger, compared with 37% who preferred the unmarked burger; 59% liked the McDonald’s branded chicken nuggets compared with 18% for the unbranded nuggets, and 77% said the French fries in the bag stamped with the McDonald’s arches and a smile tasted better than the fries from a plain white bag.
I do not doubt any of the Stanford study’s findings, and I do agree that children deserve extra protection from advertising’s influence. However, it’s not just the kids who are being influenced. I’m willing to bet that if you duplicated this study against any demographic having a positive or neutral impression of McDonald’s, McDonald’s will always beat the the plain packaging.
In Chapter 5 of Blink, Macolm Gladwell recounts brand marketers’ experimentations with packaging for margarine, soft drinks, and brandy and how the right package boosts perceived quality of the actual food items:
Cheskin was convinced that when people give and assessment of something they might buy in a supermarket or a department store, without realizing it, they transfer sensations or impressions that they have about the packaging of the product to the product itself… The product is the package and the product combined.
Advertising is about spinning a story, selling a dream, or appealing to our natural urges. For kids and parents alike, these are areas of great susceptibility.