Kids admit they’re swayed by food ads

To help us keep up-to-date with what's happening with kids, we've asked Kid Think Inc., a youth marketing consulting group, to investigate and report back to us on a wide range of issues in kids' lives. Since today's kids spend so...
July 1, 1998

To help us keep up-to-date with what’s happening with kids, we’ve asked Kid Think Inc., a youth marketing consulting group, to investigate and report back to us on a wide range of issues in kids’ lives. Since today’s kids spend so much time on-line, Kid Think talked with kids via LiveWire: Today’s Families Online, a proprietary panel of 600 on-line families across the United States.

Both Kid Think and LiveWire are divisions of Griffin Bacal, a New York-based communications agency specializing in the youth and family markets. If you have any questions or subjects you would like Kid Think to cover, call Paul Kurnit at 212-337-6442 or e-mail

What we found:

When it comes to making purchasing decisions about food for the family, kids’ opinions play a crucial role.

Our panelists told us that they are very tuned in to and swayed by food advertising. As a result, when shopping in the supermarket with their parents, many make special requests for new products. According to the panel, they tend to have the most influence regarding the purchase of snack foods and cereals, often leaving meal choices to the adults. While the majority of the kids on our panel eat at least one meal a day with their families, it is usually dinner and is prepared by either mom or dad. Occasionally, though, our panelists have the opportunity to make their own dinners, which tend to be items that are easy to prepare. Not surprisingly, the most popular things for kids to prepare are frozen pizza, macaroni and cheese, canned pasta and hot dogs.

Most of the kids on the panel bring a packed lunch to school that usually consists of a sandwich, drink, fruit and a treat like cookies. Overwhelmingly, peanut butter and jelly tops the list as the most popular sandwich, and many kids admit to trading items in their lunchbox for others they prefer.

For after-school snacks, kids want food that is quick and accessible without any fuss. Most munch on salty snacks, cookies and ice cream. What was surprising, however, was the number of respondents who told us they enjoy snacking on healthy foods equally as much. Kids today are more health-conscious than ever and recognize the benefits of eating healthy alternatives such as fruit, raw vegetables and yogurt. Brian, age 10, from Washington state, says that he enjoys snacking on fruit after school because ‘it seems to give me a power boost.’

We wanted to know which fast-food restaurants rated tops with kids. McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell were tied for first place, way above the rest. While one kid may prefer a Whopper over a Big Mac, or tacos over hamburgers, it is not just the food that helps these chains maintain loyalty among kids. Promotional toys, play areas and free soda refills are some of the things that set each place apart. Caitlin, age 9, from California, explains why McDonald’s is her favorite: ‘I like the toys like Teenie Beanies and the playgrounds that are offered, and I also like their fries a whole lot.’

What kids said:

To get a better sense about which food advertising is striking a chord with kids, we asked our panelists what new foods they plan to try in the near future:

‘I want to try Chocolate Chip Cookie Stix and some new cereals.’ Malcolm, Maryland, age 10

‘I would like to try the Gardenburger to see what a meatless hamburger tastes like.’ Chris, Texas, age 9

‘Fruit punch and Watermelon Fruit Roll-Ups.’ Melody, South Dakota, age 10

‘The new Kool-Aid freeze drink.’ Steven, Pennsylvania, age 12

‘I want to try the new cinnamon rolls from Burger King.’ Ashley, Oregon, age 10

‘I want to try the new Rice Krispies cereal that comes in different colors.’ Tara, Pennsylvania, age 11

‘Sparkling grape Jell-O.’ Brandy, Michigan, age 12

‘The wildberry Pop Tarts look good.’ Sharon, Pennsylvania, age 11

Next month: Kid Think Inc. will focus on girls and their activities.

The Kid Think column is a regular KidScreen feature.

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