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New research about the way we live

3-year-olds recognize brands, products3-year-olds recognize brands, products

Companies that target young children in marketing efforts are apparently getting through with their messages. Kids are influenced by advertising earlier than previously thought, according to a University of Michigan study reported in the journal Psychology & Marketing.

In the first part of the study, researchers showed a group of 3- to 5-year-olds a series of corporate logos and asked the children to identify them. Their rates of recognition were as high as 92 percent for some of the brands. McDonald’s was the most commonly recognized, followed closely by other fast foods, sodas and toys. At age 3, kids were readily able to recognize the brands that were marketed to them.

In the second part of the study, another group of 3- to 5-year-olds were given pictures of products or signs related to a particular “parent” brand. They were asked to place each picture with the appropriate brand logo, and they did this as well. They readily made the connections—of a French fry box or “drive thru” sign to McDonald’s or Burger King, for example.

What are the implications of these findings?

To begin with, it’s important to look at the products and messages advertisers are targeting to young children. Foods with high sugar, high fat and high sodium content are typically the most heavily advertised—and currently one in three kids in the U.S. is overweight or obese.

“There are plenty of 3- to 5-year-olds basing their drink choices on ‘bubbles’ and ‘fun’,” said Bettina Cornwell, Ph.D., marketing professor in Michigan’s School of Kinesiology and coauthor of the study. “It’s clear from the fast-food branding segments of this study that we need to address the development of eating habits very early in a child’s life.”

This research makes the “Let’s Move” national campaign all the more important. Headed by First Lady Michelle Obama, the campaign is pushing for more nutritional meals in schools and increased physical activity.

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