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Search, Mickey D’s, Or Coke, Branding Is Powerful

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Here’s a challenge for you: raise a child unexposed to branding. Good luck with it. This article isn’t about parenting, though, it’s about the power of the brand. A recent study revealed preschoolers think even milk and carrots wrapped up with McDonald’s golden arches tastes better.

I have a love-hate relationship with McDonald’s. I dig their food – fast, cheap, addictive. Addictive is the operative word because no company is better at hooking you at a young age. One of the earliest symbols recognized by children are the arches and toddlers will identify them as McDonald’s before they identify them as the letter "M."

McDonald’s means something to them. Something very special.

Worse, Mickey D’s sort of cheats with carefully engineered smells that trigger pleasure sensors in the brain, colors immediately associated with fatty goodness, reported low levels of butane in the nuggets as preservatives (source on that is Digg.com, so take it for what it’s worth), magical clowns and playgrounds on the premises, and seats crafted to be comfortable for something like exactly 14 minutes – enough time for you to eat and get the hell out of there.

But I’ve digressed. Like I said, this is an article about the power of branding.

Recently, a study on search engines showed that though search results presented to participants were the same, and even though the participants on the whole preferred Google in their daily lives, the majority of them selected Yahoo as the best search engine in the study, effectively choosing a logo over reality.

This seemed to prove my point that branding does indeed have an effect in online marketing, and a effect on the ROI, though many have argued that presence cannot compare to clicks and conversions – a word of caution, though, like a 401(k) branding payoff is not immediate. It is about getting your brand ingrained into the collective psyche, just like McDonald’s has (woefully) blisteringly and effectively done over the past 40 years.

Coke has a similar dominance in taste tests, even though when the brand was absent, participants exhibited no preference.

In this study, as reported by MercuryNews (careful, they’re nosy in San Jose; surprising they don’t ask for a DNA sample on the registration page), kids between 3 and 5 years old were given identical food samples, hamburgers, French fries, chicken nuggets, carrots, and milk. Forty-four percent preferred McDonald’s wrapped carrots.

At home, my stepson doesn’t allow me to buy generic Captain Crunch. Won’t it, swears there’s a difference. As this study illustrates though, a strong brand can altar even the taste buds.

Technology and Marketing Law Blog’s Eric Goldman relays a similar story, except this one involves Dora the Explorer:

We had our own recent first-hand experience with the power of brands over kids. We normally don’t shop in the "traditional" grocery stores like Safeway; the vast bulk of our grocery dollars go to Trader Joe’s or the farmers’ markets.

However, on a recent vacation, we stopped into a traditional grocery store (the Save Mart in Angels Camp), and my 2-year-old daughter Dina went absolutely bonkers.

She’s a fan of Dora the Explorer, and it turns out that there are an amazing number of Dora-branded products available in the traditional grocery store–we as parents had blissfully ignored these products, but they shone like bright beacons to our otherwise unexposed/inexperienced daughter.

Through some disciplined parenting, we escaped with a single Dora-branded pack of yogurt…and a vow never to go back to traditional groceries!

I’ve seen the same thing happen with Disney-branded food.

Ah, well, selling is what has created this country of ours, and it’s doubtful that will change. So the moral of the story, among several, for the online marketer’s purposes, branding is a powerful, powerful agent for the seller. Just look at what the big boys have done with it. 

Search, Mickey D’s, Or Coke, Branding Is Powerful
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