One paradox of advertising comes from a powerful inverse relationship between age and money. The people most likely to be swayed by most commercials are impressionable children (who have no money). Meanwhile, it's incredibly difficult to persuade adults (who have all the money) to break from habit and buy a new product.
A new study from the Journal of Consumer Research finds a clever loophole in this paradox. People hold onto a deep fondness for brands, like Kellogg's cereal and other foods with friendly mascots, that they were exposed to as children. The consumer brain is a bag of concrete mix before a person turns 13: Anything you can slip in the soft blend is likely to harden, along with our neural networks, by the time we become a money-spending adult. This Concrete-Mix theory of habit formation was behind efforts to ban cigarette ads targeting young people.
In four separate studies, researchers tested subjects' attitudes for Tony the Tiger (the mascot for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes), Play-Doh Pete, Cocoa Puffs, Fruit Loops, and other brands that clogged Nickelodeon commercials and Sports Illustrated for Kids pages—if my experience is any indication. People asked to judge the healthiness of these cereals and foods showed inexplicably warm feelings towards not only the characters but also the nutrition value of their favorite foods as kids.