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Cereal Box Cartoon Characters Drawn to Make Downward Eye Contact with Children as Marketing Tactic

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The hypnotizing eyes of all those colorful cartoon characters featured primarily on children's cereal boxes play a major role in keeping both kids and even some adults addicted to eating them, suggests a new Cornell University study. Researchers there observed that many popular cereal brands feature tantalizing cartoon characters whose eyes have been designed to intentionally look downward from the shelf, making direct eye contact with innocent young ones as they stroll down the cereal aisle with their parents.

It is this direct eye contact, say researchers, that keeps kids nagging their parents for more -- presumably by establishing what, at least to a child, feels like an intimate, personal connection. After studying the designs of 86 different spokes-characters emblazoned on 65 different cereal brands, including popular children's cereals like Quaker's Cap'n Crunch and Kellogg's Honey Smacks, the team discovered that the average cartoon character on a children's cereal box stares down at about a 9.6 degree angle, directly into the eyes of young children.

Performing their work at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab in Ithaca, New York, Aner Tal and his colleagues made calculations based not only on the height placement of cereal boxes as they sit on the shelf but also on the careful design elements printed on the front of their boxes. Children's cereals, it turns out, are typically placed just a few feet from the ground, where their characters can stare directly down at children. And some adult cereals featuring spokes-characters or even humans do the same thing, just higher up on the shelf.

"For cereal marketed to adults, the average height was 53.99 inches," wrote the authors, pointing out that these same cereals typically make eye contact at a level height, while the children's cereals look slightly downward. "[T]he average gaze height for cereal marketed to children was 20.21 inches, indicating that spokes-characters' eyes... were differently targeted at different heights depending on whether they were adult or children cereals."      
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