Why Are So Many Cereal Box Characters Looking Downward?

Cereal mascots like Tony the Tiger and Cap'n Crunch always appear to be happy-go-lucky in their commercials, yet if you check out the boxes lining grocery shelves, you'll invariably notice something odd: Many of those cheerful characters are gazing downward.

Cereal brand mascots like Cap'n Crunch appear to be gazing downward in order to make eye contact with their target demographic: children.
Cereal brand mascots like Cap'n Crunch appear to be gazing downward in order to make eye contact with their target demographic: children.

But the Trix Rabbit isn't troubled, nor is Lucky the Leprechaun feeling shy. Instead, they are simply trying to make eye contact with their biggest fans (and target audience): kids.

According to Cornell University researchers, the marketing gurus at cereal manufacturers have figured out that everyone wants to trust those who are trying to sell them stuff. "Eye contact with cereal spokes-characters increased feelings of trust and connection to the brand, as well as ultimate choice of the brand over competitors," the researchers wrote in the journal Environment & Behavior.

The researchers examined 65 cereal brands in 10 supermarkets in New York and Connecticut, taking into consideration the height of the shelves and the angle of the mascots' gazes. They then manipulated an image of the Trix Rabbit so that it either looked at its cereal bowl or directly at the potential buyer holding the box. Undergraduates were then asked which they preferred. They chose the latter by a large margin.

"If you are a parent who does not want your kids to go 'cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs,' avoid taking them down the cereal aisle," researcher Brian Wansink said. "If you are a cereal company looking to market healthy cereals to kids, use spokes-characters that make eye contact with children to create brand loyalty."

Get the scoop on cereal:

  • For a brief time in 1950, Rice Krispies' mascots Snap, Crackle, and Pop, were joined by a fourth brother, named Pow.

  • The first prize given with cereal was a "moving pictures book" awarded with the purchase of two boxes of Kellogg's Corn Flakes in the early 1900s.

  • Approximately half of all Americans eat a bowl of cereal every morning.

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