STANFORD, Calif. - Say what you will, Shakespeare, but a McNugget by any other name is just not as tasty. At least, not to the 3- to 5-year-old set.
Asked to sample two identical foods from the fast-food giant McDonald's, children preferred the taste of the version branded with the restaurant's familiar "Golden Arches" to one extracted from unmarked paper packaging, say researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.
The study shows that even young children are swayed by brand preferences. The results are likely to fuel more debate over a growing movement to restrict marketing to kids under 8 years old.
"Kids don't just ask for food from McDonald's," said Thomas Robinson, MD, director of the Center for Healthy Weight at Packard Children's and associate professor of pediatrics and of medicine at the School of Medicine. "They actually believe that the chicken nugget they think is from McDonald's tastes better than an identical, unbranded nugget."
The degree of preference expressed by the children correlated with the number of television sets they had in their homes and the frequency with which they ate at McDonald's.
Numerous studies have shown that young children are unable to understand that advertising, product placement and co-branding with popular toys are meant to get them to choose one product over another. For them, "truth in advertising" has a very literal meaning.
"It's really an unfair marketplace out there for young children," said Robinson, who is also a member of the Stanford Prevention Research Center. "It's very clear they cannot understand the persuasive nature of advertising."
Robinson is the lead author of the research, which will be published in the August issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
The researchers studied the taste preferences of 63 children between the ages of 3 and 5 who were enrolled i
Contact: Krista Conger
Stanford University Medical Center