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Character Marketing: It Works


Have you ever seen this in your store: The tug from a preschooler followed by: “Mommy, mommy, I want that! (Character X) is on it. It’s the best. I want that!”

Parents – and all of us – know intuitively that character marketing works. Now we have proof. Are we using that to best advantage, using those characters to increase kids’ preference and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables?

A couple of research items reinforce this: “Children develop emotional bonds with brand mascots and media characters as if they were their personal friends,” notes an issue brief  from Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. “These relationships are based on the attractiveness of the brand mascots and media characters, and they can influence children’s food choices and diet.”

The issue brief, “The Use of Brand Mascots and Media Characters: Opportunities for Responsible Food Marketing to Children,” looked at brand mascots, which are owned by food, beverage, and restaurant companies, and cartoon media characters, like the Sesame Street characters, which are owned by entertainment and media companies, in this case, Sesame Workshop.

Researchers reviewed 11 studies on the influence of media characters on kids’ diets and outcomes. They found that media characters can be used as a promising strategy to increase children’s preference, choice, and intake of fruits and vegetables compared to not using characters for branding.

Here’s more: Non-profit Super Sprowtz created a posse of cartoon vegetable characters to make vegetables cool and appealing to children. David Just, a Cornell University behavioral economist, tested Super Sprowtz characters in elementary school cafeterias. Students in schools featuring a Super Sprowtz banner at the salad bar grabbed nearly twice as many vegetable servings as those in control schools. Students at schools with both the banner and Super Sprowtz video messages in the cafeteria grabbed three times as many vegetable servings.

PMA welcomes such research because the eat brighter! movement allows marketers to use popular Sesame Street characters royalty-free to market fresh produce. eat brighter! is a collaborative effort among PMA, Sesame Workshop and the Partnership for a Healthier America designed to drive produce consumption in kids 2-5 and their families. Suppliers already engaged are reporting sales increases (3 percent on average), and retailers have told us these create excitement in the department.

Save-A-Lot Citrus Promo Imparts Excitement, Delivers Results

We recently profiled an eat brighter! retailer-supplier pair that detailed results from a spring citrus promotion using eat brighter!

Linda Cunningham of citrus supplier Classic Harvest and Bryan Roberts of Save-A-Lot stores teamed up for a promotion of value-priced, Elmo-labeled bags of navel oranges. Classic Harvest’s bags were promoted in 1,300–1,400 stores.

Roberts offered the retailer perspective: “Save-A-Lot is always seeking exciting ways to bring healthy options to our customers and to drive sales. The eat brighter! packaging is certainly working; it really pops in the store and helps draw attention to fresh produce. Feedback has been really positive.”

“Classic Harvest is a young company, and we don’t have millions of dollars to spend on branding,” Cunningham said. “We wanted to brand our products with recognizable characters; eat brighter! is an affordable option, and PMA has done all the legwork. Millennial moms know the characters, because they grew up with Sesame Street, and the artwork really resonates with children.”

Because the eat brighter! program eliminates royalties, additional product costs are not a factor. Roberts said: “It’s been a great program for us, especially because I’m not paying royalties to participate, and I’m not paying a premium to get the eat brighter! branded product. So I’m able to deliver something featuring characters that kids and parents alike recognize. It’s been very successful.”

When marketers make it easier for parents to make the healthy choice the easy choice, they show that they care about their customers. And when kids eat more produce in their early years, they develop preferences that will make them consumers for life. When consumers, including the preschool set, eat more produce, the whole produce supply chain, including retailers, benefits in greater sales.


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