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Brand Preferences Start Very Young

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About seven years ago a colleague from Interbrand Argentina produced a short film of his infant son that had many of us assume parental coaching. In it, the boy is multi-tasking. He is playing while his father shows him various logos. With stunning accuracy, this young lad rattles off McDonald’s, Nike, and others. It was an amazing experiment and one subsequently proven by various studies.

A BBC report states, “Psychologists confirm a theory that Ray Kroc and Walt Disney traded upon, that ‘brand loyalty’ can be established by the age of two.” And further, “Market research has found that children can recognize a brand logo before they can recognize their own name.”

A study from 2010 found that the preschool set has gone further by developing the ability to identify and distinguish among different corporate products.

“Young children are ready learners and are learning about their brand environment just about everywhere,” said T. Bettina Cornwell, a professor of marketing and sports management at the University of Michigan and co-author of “Children’s Brand Symbolism Understanding”.

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Tongue-in-cheek Alphabet Graphic from Stock Logos

The study involved preschool children ages 3 to nearly 5 years old and found that while the children were not yet able to read, they often knew exactly which logo corresponded with which brand. Fast food chains (McDonald’s), entertainment companies (Disney, Warner Brothers) and cars (Toyota) proved especially recognizable. The latter was a surprise as the carmaker’s marketing is not directed towards kids. Yet, Toyota was recognized by 80 percent of the study’s participants. McDonald’s was the most recognized brand, with nearly 93 percent of children correctly identifying the restaurant chain by its golden arches.

Even more interesting is the fact that some children were able to demonstrate not just why they personally liked or disliked a brand but also what the brand might mean to others. “Kids this young are using brands as indicators of popularity or success,” Anna R. McAlister, a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin and co-author said.

While this may concern many, the two researchers point out that “the power of communication is not lost on (young children),” and “It can be used to forward public policy aims.”

Also from a developmental standpoint, the kids who were best at understanding the brands were those with more advanced social skills and a particular type of cognitive development. The kids with brand know-how also showed a higher level of executive function, which is a cognitive ability that has to do partly with categorization and grouping things together.

Fascinating stuff and worthy of more study.

Jeff Swystun DDB Worldwide Chief Communications Officer

Posted November 3, 2011 at 3:45pm

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