Marketers seeking to encourage healthy eating habits among children may benefit from using photographs rather than cartoons or drawn images, according to a study in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Entitled Choosing Imagery in Advertising Healthy Food to Children: Are Cartoons the Most Effective Visual Strategy?, the study examined the effects of visual communication on children’s healthy food choices.

The children in the study liked foods displayed as cartoons the most, while drawn foods scored lower. And they wanted to consume the foods represented by photos.

In motivating healthy food consumption by children, therefore, the research – conducted by Maria Lagomarsino (Université de Neuchâtel/Switzerland) and L. Suzanne Suggs (Università della Svizzera Italiana/Switzerland and Imperial College/London) – argued it may be more effective to use photos rather than cartoons or other animations.

Moreover, the paper proposed, healthy food advertisements that use a mix of visualisations may maximise the attention to, and adoption of, healthy food that is marketed to children.

Indeed, the authors found: “Despite the assessed children’s appreciation of cartoons, this study shows an essential distinction regarding what visualization of healthy food items children like and which one shows food that they want to eat.

“If the aim of food promotion is to attract children, then cartoons seem to be effective. If the aim is to increase the consumption of the food item, photos may be the more effective visualization.”

Moreover, they wrote: “The appreciation of cartoons could have counter-effects on actual consumption of the associated product in case of healthy food.

“The current study’s results support this concern; children found the cartoons to be funny and cute; they liked the characters as friends, and they did not want to eat them.

“On the basis of the findings in this experimental study and existing literature, the use of fantasy elements can help healthy food marketing efforts, especially to increase children’s attention.”

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff