Marketing to Children 1Running head: MARKETING TO CHILDREN Marketing to Children: Organic and Nonorganic Cereals Melissa Ballentine, William Repko, & Robby Scott COM 3930: Media, Culture, & the Environment April 20, 2011
Marketing to Children 2 Within the field of marketing, no one element or topic receives as much as focus as themarketing mix, better known as the four p’s. Arranged alphabetically, the four p’s represent thefollowing: place, price, product, and promotion. Whether professionals are attempting to marketan entire brand or only an item within a brand, marketers must address each of the four p’s tocreate a favorable purchase environment. In dealing with place, marketers must assess when andwhere they will choose to sell their products. Then, using the supply of and demand for theirproducts, marketers must select a sales price that will maximize revenues. No revenues will becollected, however, unless marketers are sure the product they are selling is desirable andreliable. Finally, marketers use promotion to address methods and techniques for creatingconsumer awareness of, desire for, and purchases of their products. In today’s society, promotion, especially advertising, dominates our culture. It is almostimpossible to walk down a city street, read a local magazine, or even use a university restroomwithout being bombarded with advertisements. While some advertisements promote non-profitinterests such as physical health or environmental sustainability, the overwhelming percentage ofads are run to generate more sales for products. Of the for-profit interests that advertise, the foodindustry has played the most significant role in making advertising so dominant in our society. During the past six weeks as part of our discussion of media culture and the environment,we have learned a great deal about the American food system. The materials written by RobertCox, Sut Jhally, and Michael Pollan have led us to naturally question the actual contents of thefood we eat, but those same readings have also caused us to question what makes us purchaseone food product over a similar, almost identical product. Of course, the general, obviousanswer to the latter is marketing strategies and promotion tactics. Yet, wanting a more fulfilling
Marketing to Children 3answer regarding this aspect of the food industry, we were immediately intrigued when presentedwith the idea of analyzing the marketing strategies used by cereal manufacturers to appeal tochildren. Though the idea of researching the marketing strategies employed by children’s cerealmanufacturers is certainly a step toward understanding the marketing methods of our foodsystem, a more specific research basis is necessary to make more sustainable conclusions.Therefore, our research is based on the following question: Do the ways nonorganic cerealsmarket to children differ from the ways organic cereals market to children? The academicportion of our research will focus on the following: general and food specific marketingtechniques to appeal to children and their parents, nonorganic cereals’ marketing techniques toappeal to children, organic cereals’ marketing techniques to appeal to children, comparisons ofthese techniques, and our conclusions. Finally, for the purposes of this study, a child isconsidered any individual less than thirteen years of age. By the end of the second month of a child’s life, he or she has already become exposed tothe consumer environment (McNeal & Ji, 2003, p. 400). Even at this early age, a child hasinteracted with the world of consumerism through in-home, outdoor, and in-store advertising.Thus, it becomes no surprise that a child is requesting specific products by brand name by theage of two (p. 401). Knowing that children are demanding products by age two certainly givescompanies the incentive to market to toddlers and even infants. While it may be surprising to theaverage individual that companies spend millions of dollars targeting those who were born onlyweeks prior, educated marketers know this is a key period in gaining brand loyalty. For food marketers, there are two targets for promoting food to children. The first isobviously the child, and the second is the child’s parents. In a child’s earliest years, he or she
Marketing to Children 4develops his or her own preferences, but with no purchasing power and only limited input, thechild’s parents choose the majority of food products that a child intakes (G. Smith, 1997, p. 4).Thus, marketers must be aware of the factors that influence parents’ purchases. The ultimate goalof parents is to get their children fed; however, the objectives in doing so can vary widely acrossindividual families, regions, and cultures. Some of such objectives relate to the followingfactors: cost, effort, nutrition, routine, conversation, and dining etiquette (p. 7). Knowing parentsmake the purchases, marketers appeal to these underlying objectives, but they are also careful toallot budget funding to appeal to the desires of the child. As stated above, children arerequesting brand name products by age two, and one of the first foods they solicit is cereal(McNeal & Ji, 2003, p. 401). In appealing to children’s desires for cereal, marketers focus predominantly on two areas:the product and its packaging. For those children under six years of age who are yet to enjoy“self-purchasing independence,” marketers must continue to appeal to both parents and children(G. Smith, 1997, p. 122). To appeal to children based on the cereal product, most cerealcompanies highlight its sweetened taste. Since the launch of Sugar Crisp by Post Cereals in the1950s, presweetened cereals have emerged as children’s preferred type of cereal (Bruce &Crawford, 1995, p. 106). Despite reports showing no strong correlation among tooth decay,obesity, and presweetened cereal, hundreds of thousands of parents elect not to purchasesweetened cereals for their children (p. 260). Instead, these parents purchase cereals that readilypromote health benefits (p. 231). The goal of cereal marketers is to position its brand within children’s consideration setsso that when a child thinks of cereal, he or she thinks of that particular brand (McNeal & Ji,2003, p. 401). To accomplish this, cereal marketers depend on several aspects of marketing, but
Marketing to Children 5no one area is as significant as the cereal’s packaging. Top executives expect the cereal box tocarry the majority of the workload in promoting the cereal’s image, and as a result, packagedesign has become a $100 billion dollar industry (p. 402). When analyzing packaging acrossbrands, the most important factors of the exterior of any cereal box are copy, color, structure,graphics, and characters (p. 402). While copy should be large, colors bright, and graphicsfamiliar, these factors are menial when compared to the substantial leverage carried by charactersassociated with the cereal (Acuff, 1997, p. 31). In the years preceding a child’s sixth birthday, the popular appeal of characters isextremely effective in creating a favorable attitude about different cereals (G. Smith, 1997, p.124). In a 2003 study by McNeal and Ji that asked 125 elementary students to draw a cereal box,nearly 40 percent of the children included a spokescharacter in their drawings (p. 412). Thisnumber was significant, for of the 93 ready-to-eat cereal brands analyzed, only 36 percent of theboxes had spokescharacters (p. 413). With almost 60 boxes not containing a singlespokescharacter and close to 40 percent of the drawings showing a character, it is clearcharacters such as Cap’n’Crunch and Tony the Tiger play a significant role in children’s cerealchoices. Furthermore, the use of familiar spokespersons is so effective that Kellogg’s, at therequest of consumer groups, has abandoned third-party licensed promotions in an effort to havechildren choose food for its nutritional value rather than its emotional appeal (Charles, 2008). To compare the marketing techniques of organic and nonorganic cereals, Trix nonorganiccereal and Cascadian Farm’s Clifford Crunch organic cereal were analyzed. In an attempt tokeep an element of consistency within the study, two cereals within the same company—GeneralMills—were chosen. General Mills was chosen completely at random during a research visit to alocal Publix Super Market. Publix was chosen as the site to select the cereals to be studied
Marketing to Children 6because of its wide product variety and its own natural/organic label GreenWise (R., 2005, p.15). Using the front cover of each cereal’s box, the marketing techniques of both cereals werecompared based on the presence of the following: animated characters, other images, andnutritional information. Since children and characters seem to be “inseparably joined at the hip,” General Millsmade a profitable decision by incorporating an animated rabbit into Trix’s marketing scheme inthe late 1950s (Acuff, 1997, p. 9). Today, over fifty years later, Trix is still using the rabbit asthe main focus of its packaging. While the particular box that was analyzed in this study had therabbit emerging from a colorful bed of Trix cereal, the Trix rabbit has been illustrated incountless ways over the years. No matter his positioning, the “silly” rabbit is always pictured insome fashion to put smiles on the faces of young consumers (Bruce & Crawford, 1995, p. 207).Keeping the rabbit on the box’s facing has also allowed for continuity within General Mills’marketing scheme. Without the rabbit image on the box, children would not be as likely toconnect the “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids” advertising campaign with the actual product. In 2005, seeing the success of animated characters on the boxes of its nonorganic cereals,General Mills decided to insert a familiar character onto the boxes of its organic cereal lineCascadian Farm (Thompson, 2005). In fact, the company went a step further as it not onlyinserted Clifford the Big Red Dog onto the product’s facing but also into the product’s officialname (Kirsche, 2005, p. 47). “Clifford Crunch” features a big red lovable Clifford dominatingthe right side of the box along with a smaller depiction of his human friend Emily Elizabeth andher two smaller dogs. Due to struggling revenues from promoting its cereals primarily on itsnatural features, Cascadian Farm inserted Clifford with the hope that his character would providethe connection to America’s youngest shoppers (Thompson, 2005). With their insertion of
Marketing to Children 7Clifford onto their cereals’ packaging, Cascadian Farm reaffirmed the conclusions of the McNealand Ji study reference above. Besides the Trix rabbit, three other main features, or images, stand out on the Trix cerealbox. These include the brand “Trix” in big, colorful writing; a bed of colorful Trix cereal; and abright red background. From the box analyzed, these three features use the following colors:blue, green, purple, red, and yellow. While those unfamiliar with marketing principles maybelieve those colors were chosen at random, those more familiar with food marketing knowthose colors were specifically selected. Research studies consistently show that the favoritecolors of children are blue, green, purple, red, and yellow (G. Smith, 1997, p. 123). Therefore, ifchildren are not attracted to Trix by its rabbit, then General Mills plans to attract them with themost appealing color display available. Despite the words Clifford Crunch being written in a bolded pink font with a bright bluebackground, its cereal box is a form of “green” marketing. Green marketing, or a “corporation’sattempt to associate its products, services, or identity with environmental values and images,” isrecognized primarily in the top third of this cereal’s box (Cox, 2010, p. 335). Inside greenmarketing, there is no more significant representation of the environment than the color green,and Clifford Crunch cereal certainly incorporates it. In stark contrast to the red background of Trix, Clifford Crunch uses a white background.Of course, this allows big red Clifford to stand out, but, more importantly, it allows the greenfeatures of the box to be easily recognized by parents. Placed on a forest green background, thewords “Cascadian Farm” and “organic” easily emerge in white and yellow fonts respectively.Right above this text is a circular frame with an image of planted farmland and the mountains ofthe Upper Skagit Valley, Washington. In addition to attracting those adults who want the most
Marketing to Children 8natural, healthy foods for their children, Cascadian Farm hopes to also attract those individualswho purchase green products as their way of contributing to a more environmentally friendlysociety. This purchasing strategy, known as green consumerism, is employed by hundreds ofthousands of Americans daily. Despite consumers’ good intentions, such purchases do notnecessarily make society more green, for buying these products supports a manufacturing anddistributing cycle that still burns increasing amounts of oil and emits ever more pollution (T.Smith, 1998, p. 21). The final comparison that was drawn between the two box facings is the differences intheir promotions of nutritional benefits. On Clifford Crunch’s facing, Cascadian Farm promotesits organic content in two ways. First, the word organic is placed in large, yellow font underCascadian Farm’s brand name. Second, the United States Department of Agriculture organicseal is located in the lower left hand corner of the box. For a company to insert this seal on itsproducts, it must refrain from the use of genetically modified organisms, pesticides, growthhormones, etc. It must also abstain from these techniques for three years prior to receiving theseal, and the product must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients (Rubino, 2010, p. 31).Thus, when consumers purchase Clifford Crunch, they are receiving one of the most naturalcereals the industry offers. Whereas Clifford’s Crunch promotes its organic contents, Trix cereal highlights its use ofwhole grains. In a blue strip that has become standard to the top of General Mills’ cereals, thewords “Whole Grain Guaranteed” are printed in yellow and white fonts. With this promotion,Trix is also trying to promote the naturalness of its cereal. However, the production standard forcarrying the “Whole Grain Guaranteed” promise is much less stringent than the requirements forthe USDA organic seal. To be considered whole grain, the only requirement is that the food
Marketing to Children 9product must have all three edible parts of its original grain: the outer bran layer, the endosperm,and the germ (Harriman, 2009, p. 67). Therefore, as long as all three parts are present, the fooditem can be processed in any way and still be considered whole grain (p. 67). As a result of thisguideline, General Mills can legally promote its cereals as more natural and environmentallyfriendly to compete with truly natural cereals, such as Cascadian Farm’s Clifford’s Crunch. After analyzing the box facings of Trix and Clifford Crunch based on the presence ofanimated characters, other images, and nutritional information, it can be concluded that thenonorganic and organic cereals differ in the ways each markets to children. Of the discrepancies,the biggest differences come in the area of other images. Whereas Trix cereal uses bright colorsin its background and brand formatting, Clifford Crunch uses a simple white backdrop so that itsorganic labeling, rural imagery, and other green marketing techniques can easily emerge. Thetwo cereals also differ in the types of nutritional value each promotes. Clifford Crunch proudlyplaces the USDA organic seal on its facing, and, in an attempt to also appeal to health consciousconsumers, Trix boasts a much less significant “Whole Grain Guarantee.” As far as animatedcharacters are concerned, the cereals are similar. While one is a rabbit and the other a dog, bothbrands have studied the research, such as that provided above, and understand the mostsuccessful children’s cereals are those with characters that children can easily recognize. Of the four components of the marketing mix, this study focused on promotion andproduct. For future study of the differences in how organic and nonorganic cereals market tochildren, one may choose to also include the factors of price and place. Additionally, the aboveresearch honed in on two cereals within General Mills, Inc. For future research, analyzingnonorganic and organic cereals across the four major cereal distributors—Kellogg’s, QuakerOats, Post, and General Mills—should provide more in-depth results. Finally, interviewing
Marketing to Children 10marketing professionals within these brands would provide perhaps the best perspective of thefactors influencing organic and nonorganic marketing.
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