It was interesting to see the amount of coverage this study received in the media this week, concerning how youngsters, in a taste test, overwhelmingly preferred food that came in McDonald’s packaging to food that didn’t.
I mean, I guess it’s nice to have scientists confirm what every mom already knew for sure, but couldn’t they have just asked us in the first place, and spent their time and money curing cancer?
According to the AP, “the study had youngsters sample identical McDonald’s foods in name-brand or unmarked wrappers. The unmarked foods always lost the taste test.” By margins as large as 3 to 1, the children preferred food with the golden arches on it.
Not only am I not surprised by this, I’m not even particularly dismayed. Anyone who has had a child, and who has navigated with that child through the aisles of the supermarket, knows the power of advertising. “Look, Mommy! Ratatouille yogurt with rainbow sprinkles! Devil Dogs with real artificial Shrek-green frosting!”
This can work against you or for you. I take these moments as teachable ones, and give my four year old an earful about how the company put Shrek on the Devil Dogs to make him want to buy it, but that mommies know that they are full of preservatives. When he then asks what preservatives are, I parry with, “Something that makes food taste really yucky.”
And on we go from there. On the other hand, this same child is an incredibly picky eater, and there are times when I thank God for this very exploitative packaging that this study sought to expose.
For example: I have tried many times to get my picky eater to eat edamame (soybeans), without much success. Since the only meat he will eat is chicken nuggets, I have been working hard to find other sources of protein he will consider. Never have I been successful. Never, until I found this product in my grocer’s freezer: Spongebob Squarepants Edamame. My son has never watched this show, but he is helpless in Spongebob’s thrall, and when I was able to present him with his own bag of Spongebob edamame at dinner time, well, that changed everything. He gobbled it up, and next time I can buy regular edamame… and keep using the Spongebob bag.
Another example: my son needed eye drops, and refused to allow me to administer them, until I presented the Target brand eye drops I had as “Captain America’s Special Magic X-Ray Vision Drops,” willfully misrepresenting the red bullseye on the packaging as Captain America’s shield. Well, that changed everything.
So I am all in favor of marketing to kids. I’m going to go to McDonald’s and ask them how much to buy one hundred of those paper hamburger wrappers. And then serve my 4 year old liver and onions… yummy McDonald’s liver and onions. It just might do the trick.