Wednesday, April 09, 2014

A-look me in the eye…

Let’s face it, in the grand scheme of things, it’s far more important that we groom the younger generations to fulfill their roles as citizen-consumers than it is to try to ensure that they become citizen-voters, citizen-do-gooders, citizen-citizens. I mean, seriously, the wallet is mightier than the ballot.

So get ‘em while they’re young, I always say.

I certainly regret that my marketing career has been in boring old grownup business-to-business and techie-to-techie stuff, rather than in the much more mission critical arena of consumer-goods-to-child-consumer marketing.

How much more rewarding it would have been to convince a kid that he had to have a high-fructose low-value cereal than to woo an IT director to pay a lot of money for an automated testing “solution.”

But, alas, I missed that chance.

Fortunately, there are plenty of bright and eager marketers out there who have taken up the cause. And some of them are doing the Lord of Consumption’s work on behalf of cereal makers.

In a study of 65 cereals at 10 grocery stores, researchers at Cornell University found that cereals marketed to kids are often placed at a lower shelf height—and characters on the cereal boxes are typically drawn to make eye contact with children. The report even has a suitably creepy title: “Eyes in the Aisles: Why is Cap’n Crunch Looking Down at My Child?” (Source: Business Week)

I suppose I wouldn’t find this quite so objectionable if, say, Kippy the Kangaroo was making eye contact with the little ones so that they would beg mommy and daddy to buy them Kale Flakes – They’re green! They’re crunchy! They’re air-dried! They’re healthful! But Cap’n Crunch?

“Eye contact with cereal spokes-characters increased feelings of trust and connection to the brand, as well as choice of the brand over competitors,” the report states. Consumers are 16 percent more likely to trust a brand of cereal when the characters on the boxes on the supermarket shelves look them straight in the eye. That conclusion’s based on a lab study of 63 university students who were more likely to pick Trix over Fruity Pebbles when the rabbit’s eyes were digitally manipulated to look out at them.

Not that marketing to kids was anywhere near as aggressive during my kid-hood as it is now, but in any case I would have missed out on Tony the Tiger, the Snap-Crackle-and-Pop boys, or the Sugar Crisp Sugar Bear looking me in my eyes, as we never went grocery shopping as kids.

Oh, I logged plenty of time in the grocery store running errands when we ran out of something or other, but my mother was a pre-Pea Pod pea-podder.

My mother didn’t drive until I was well into high school, so every Friday morning she called in her rather extensive weekly grocery order to Morris Market and, come Friday afternoon, cartons full of groceries were delivered by either Paul Bornstein – son-in-law of the eponymous Morris – or by Joey Hurley, a high schooler who lived across the street from my grandmother and whose family dog, Blackie, bit me (completely unprovoked) when I was in fourth grade.

Grocery deliveries were augmented by those occasional errands run by me or my sister Kath, but those were purposeful errands, meant to fulfill very specific requests: loaf of Roman Meal Bread, jar of Dailey’s Kosher Dill Pickles, can of Campbell’s Chicken Gumbo Soup. No roaming around the aisles making eye contact with Tony the Tiger. (And none of this “keep the change” nonsense, either. Most of the time my mother gave us the exact amount that the item was going to cost.)

It’s not just the kids who are the target of the seeing-eye marketers:

Adults, don’t think you’re not on marketers’ radars. The researchers also found that the cereal-selling personalities on the boxes aimed at grownups tend to make eye contact, too.

Gives new meaning to a favored expression in our family: Don’t Make Eye Contact.

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