Eye contact plays an important role in establishing trust between new friends or colleagues. Apparently the same goes for the brand of cereal we purchase. A recent study out of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab has revealed that consumers are 16 percent more likely to trust a brand of cereal if the character on the box is staring them directly in the eyes.

"If you are a parent who does not want your kids to go 'cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs,' avoid taking them down the cereal aisle,” Cornell’s Director of Food and Brand Lab, Brian Wansink, said in a statement. “If you are a cereal company looking to market healthy cereals to kids, use spokes-characters that make eye contact with children to create brand loyalty."

In their assessment of cereal character and eye contact, researchers from Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab and the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity included 65 brands of cereal on the shelves of 10 different grocery stores in New York and Connecticut. The standard distance between shoppers and the cereal shelf, 4 feet, was used to calculate the angle in which 86 different cereal characters gazed at shoppers.

Findings from the first portion of the study revealed cereal characters marketed toward children and those marketed toward adults are designed to make incidental eye contact with their target audience. Out of 86 different cereal characters, 57 were designed with a 9.67-degree downward gaze in order to grab the attention of children. Cereal characters marketed toward adults were designed with a 0.43-degree upward angle and generally stared straight ahead.

“There are some cool things happening in grocery stores, many based on psychology, that impact how and what people purchase,” explained post-doctoral lab researcher, Aner Tal. "By studying more than 80 breakfast spokes-characters, we found that kids' cereals are positioned at the same height as kids - about 23 inches off of the floor and adult's cereals are positioned at about 48 inches off of the floor."

In the second part of the study, 63 students from a private university in the northeast were asked to observe two versions of a Trix cereal box and give their opinion on trust and connection to its trademark rabbit character. One version of the cereal box showed the rabbit looking straight ahead while the second showed the rabbit looking down. Results proved that brand trust rose by 16 percent and connection to the brand by 10 percent when the Trix rabbit made eye contact with the participant.

Source: Musicus A, Tal A, Wansink B. Eyes in the Aisles: Why is Cap’n Crunch Looking Down at My Child? Environment & Behavior. 2014.