Updated on 10.24.08

Brand Preferences and the Two Year Old Child

Trent Hamm

Eli and Cheerios... by Gramody on FlickrMy son absolutely loves Fruity Cheerios.

About a year ago, he had them for breakfast at Grandma’s, and since then, he’s been in love with the little colorful circles. He prefers them to all other breakfast options, requesting Fruity Cheerios no matter what else we’re having. Twice a week or so, we relent, allowing him his Fruity Cheerios, since his other breakfasts are quite varied (oatmeal, eggs, and so on) and are accompanied by orange juice or milk, ensuring a diverse diet.

Luckily, we’ve been able to match coupons with Fruity Cheerios, bringing the price of a box of the lovely loops down to a reasonable price range. We’ve yet to pay more than two dollars for a box of the cereal.

Unfortunately, last week, our luck ran out just as the box emptied. As usual, my boy put in a request to get more Fruity Cheerios at the store, and when I checked my coupon binder, I didn’t find a useable coupon.

When I got to the store, I looked at several different brands of the same type of cereal, looking for a generic version that was also substantially lower in sugar than the truly awful Froot Loops. I found a generic brand that seemed to line up fairly well and decided to purchase that instead.

The next morning, my son requested Fruity Cheerios and I pulled out the bag of generic cereal. He got fairly upset, informing me that he wanted the “red box,” even after I poured him the bowl of cereal. He did eventually calm down and eat the cereal.

This made me curious, so I dug out the old Fruity Cheerios box and put some of the new generic cereal in it. The next time, I poured the generic cereal from the Fruity Cheerios box and he was quite happy with it.

Clearly, some of my son’s enjoyment of Fruity Cheerios comes from the branding. He insisted strongly on the “red box,” even though he couldn’t actually distinguish between the contents of the name brand and the generic cereal.

Obviously, I want my child to not grow up believing that branding is a requirement for a good product. This will not only save me money throughout the years as he grow, but will save him money in adulthood as well. So what’s the next step? I have two tactics in mind.

One tactic is demonstrating that I prefer the generic. Basically, whenever he has a morning where he’s allowed to have “Fruity Cheerios,” I eat the generic cereal right along with him. This takes advantage of parental imitation – he sees eating generics as the completely normal thing for an adult to do.

The other tactic? Keep buying the generic cereal and putting it into the Fruity Cheerios box right in front of him. If I keep doing this over and over again, when he reaches the right level of cognitive development, he’ll realize that the cereal he’s been eating all along is actually a generic brand – and he’ll realize it’s just as good as the name brand.

Any additional thoughts on how to reduce the influence of name brands on a young child?

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  1. Shahram says:

    I do not have a child and just share my idea. I am in favor of imitation method. Cheating the child might solve the problem in a short run as long as he is young but it will damage the parent’s reputation. When he gets older he won’t buy your ideas or put his trust in you. the optimal solution is to add the generic to the original box and you have the generic version and make sure that he notices that.

  2. francesca says:

    I don’t think this case is actually “brand-name preference” so much as familiarity. He knew he cereal he LOVED came in a certain colored box. You did the research to see that the generic cereal would taste like the brand-name, negating the exterior appearance issue to you. But he hadn’t gone through those steps, and you didn’t explain before bringing out the cereal in that moment. So to him, it wasn’t the same – it was different! Explaining in the heat of the moment was too late.

    I don’t think you should follow the second tactic – kids hate feeling deceived, even if they realize it was for an innocuous situation. It’s a tricky path, because then it opens up the question of, “what else are my parents deceiving me of, even if they think it’s no big deal?” I know that’s the opposite of what you want to instill.

    Make it fun! Read and compare the ingredients together, showing him the difference between the inside and the boxes. Maybe even do a taste-test, to see if he can identify them! I know you already discuss costs in ways he’s able to understand. And expand this beyond his favorite cereal – cognitive jumps like content vs. packaging are hard when it’s an emotionally-charged situation. He knows this has “value” because he loves it, and is rationed it, and knows you’re monitoring it. So maybe try this with some other products first!

  3. C.I says:

    The topic of cereal branding and red cereal boxes was actually discussed a few weeks ago in my 4th year Marketing Strategy class. The prof brought in 5 boxes of red box cereal (Cap’n Crunch, Fruit Loops, Fruity Cheerios, a few others). We were commenting on all of the similarities. Notice how on those boxes all the cartoon characters have their eyes looking down, since those boxes are usually on the mid-shelf, so they have the cartoons looking down at the child when they are in the shopping cart.

    As for branding and your son, it would probably be better to just keep getting the generic brand, as opposed to putting them in the red box. If he is old enough to understand the concept of money tell him you buy whatever one is cheaper that week at the store, and that they both taste the same.

  4. Maha says:

    I remove the cereal or whatever the item is from the box and toss the box. I use a vacuum sealer to reseal the plastic bag to keep it fresh as long as possible. I notice that the first time we open a box of cereal, the kids are really enthused, after, the cereal sits on the shelf for quite a while before being revisited. But I started doing this mostly to save space, but I did notice the branding thing too.

  5. Maggie says:

    The toddler/preschool age is so much fun! I frequently make smoothies for my family in the morning, we have some cups with lids that have a straw hole and I put the striped bendy straws in them, I never know if today’s color of straw will meet the Princesses approval, she’s 4 right now. She’s now old enough that I’m trying to get her to realize that she can be happy with what she’s given and then try to remember the color for next time. I think you’re doing just fine with your tactics and they’re appropriate for his age level. I know my big girl likes whatever Daddy likes, so the parental imitation thing is big. But my guess is that the box is just more colorful and kids love color and become partial to certain colors very easily, red is one of those colors that all little ones love.

  6. Martin says:

    Danger, Will Robinson: Your third assumption (telling him when he is “old enough”, he realizing generic is just as good) will eventually backfire. Your child is more likely to feel betrayed, and demanding the real stuff, which now magically will taste better than the generic one. I’m sure there is a psychological terminus for this, I’ve just seen this behaviour before.

    Also: There is a reason why the Coke can is red.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    LOL, same thing happened with my almost 5 yo! She’s particular about bread (likes Nature’s Own.) I had “off brand” wheat and she saw it and turned her nose up at it. When she was in the other room, I took out the two heels from the empty Nature’s Own bag, stuffed the new loaf of bread in there. She ran back in the room, saw it, and was excited to eat it!

    (It did however, also pass the taste test of tasting pretty similar to the bread she was used to…)

  8. I always buy supermarket’s own brand (generic) products. They are a lot cheaper than brand name products. One way to minimize branding effects would be to try variety of products instead of buying same brand over and over.
    A Dawn Journal

  9. Teresa says:

    My girls are a little older now and we’ve worked very hard over the years for them to understand that a brand doesn’t make it taste better. My youngest had a thing with saltine crackers…Her preschool teacher noticed it and reminded her that “We get what we get and we don’t throw a fit!” That became the mantra in our house there after. The girls are now 9 and 11, that phrase still gets pulled out once and awhile.

  10. Kathy says:

    *heh* I am reminded of the advice on how to get kids to drink powdered milk by pouring it into the empty milk carton so that they think it is “fresh” milk.

  11. I was in charge of buying food for 20 teenagers at a camp a few years back. I witnessed the same thing with Corn Pops – yellow box = good, generic box = bad. I didn’t let them see me pour the generics into the name brand box… but as soon as I did that, they got eaten without complaint.

    The difference between 2 year olds and 16 year olds is often not as much as you’d think.

  12. Nic says:

    I’d go with the first option and avoid the 2nd one, he could be unhappy when he finds out you’ve been lieing to him about which one he’s been getting, even if he realises that you’re right.

  13. Lurker Carl says:

    Branding by youngsters? Food intake is about the only thing children can control in their lives.

    They know what they like best by sight. Taste and smell are not very sophisticated in youngsters, just basic sweet and sour and bitter and texture and observation determines their palate. If what they like comes out of a red box, then it must be the red box. If what they like are bananas with black dots, then the peel must have black dots. Remove the red box or peel from their sight. Kids will learn to identify what they like by the food itself, not the package. Children take cues from other people, they will mimic familiar behavior and test their limits with food. Then they will fixate on the plate or cup or some other insignificant object instead of the food. It’s human nature to control the surroundings.

  14. Sloan says:

    Hello! I stumbled upon your blog through a link of a link, and this entry in particular really appealed to me.
    —It had this effect on me because I saw childhood self through your little boy. I was also brand fixated as a child, and I would insist on a certain brand because I “felt” it tasted better, or it was better, or that the packaging was more appealing to me.

    (I think advertising, marketing and packaging is inadvertently really geared towards children *laugh*)

    However, my mom did the same things you did… she bought generic brands and consumed the generic brands, sometimes refilling old containers of my preferred brand with generic brands, until I got used to it.

    And well, I guess I grew up to be ok with generic, and frugal and practical with my purchases.

    So in essence, this is an affirmative comment to you… you’re doing a good job, raising your son to be less brand-conscious and more practical and healthy in general! :)

  15. Kate says:

    I love that he really just wanted the red box! He probably wants the feeling that he is at grandma’s house, too. I laugh when I think how much my kids didn’t realize until they were with grandparents. Those animals that move when a quarter is put in them? My oldest was perfectly happy just sitting on it and “pretend” riding until a grandparent put a quarter in it and it started moving. Aaahh…the good old days.
    Be aware that the brand name desire really surfaces again during the teen years with a vengeance.
    My suggestion is to buy whatever is cheaper and not to put it in the “red” box. You will be perpetuating the idea that it tastes better because it is in the red box–it won’t be too long before he makes the connection between the red and the brand and then you’ll have a bigger battle on your hands. Also, he might feel like he has been tricked all those times, which will be a valid feeling because he will have been.
    If grandparents want to spend the money to buy the red box then let them–that is the wonderful thing about grandparents. I’m thinking of all the times that I got Coke at my grandparent’s house because we never had it at our own house. And guess what? My kids very rarely had soft drinks or “sugar” cereal at my house–they were too expensive and had little nutritional value. They got them at both grandparents’ house, though. Which is okay. As Bill Cosby said: “Grandparents are just old people trying to get into heaven.”

  16. Vanessa says:

    Here’s an idea: How about getting a simple cereal storage container (like the kind Tupperware makes) and sell the idea to the child that they can pick the kind of container and that will help keep all their special Cheerios fresh and crunchy. Then buy a box of genuine Cheerios and have junior help fill the special storage container. Now they have their own special container filled with the cereal of their preference. You can then sneakily add top ups of generic cereal while slowly getting rid of the red-box concept.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    Do not perpetuate it unless branding is what you want to achieve! Just buy what you would buy – sometimes the red box, sometimes the generic – and give the choice to eat it or not.

    You may get some initial resistance, but kids are smart. Explain that the fruity cereal coms in many different types of boxes and this is the one you chose this week.

    Let him make the choice as to whether a different type of fruity cereal or say, oatmeal, is his preference for that day and I will bet some money (!) that he will choose the fruity cereal. If not, he has oatmeal. That’s fine too!

    Don’t take away his ability to be a good consumer – help him to break the branding association by giving him the choice. Even at two, they totally get that!

  18. ckstevenson says:

    I think you misinterpret his desires with “some of my son’s enjoyment of Fruity Cheerios comes from the branding”.

    He couldn’t care less if it is red or blue or brown. What he cares about is that the “real” cheerios have always come from box X, and how he’s presented with box (or bag) Y. He wants X, whatever it is. The branding has become intrinsically linked to his perception of the product, but his enjoyment isn’t tied to the branding, merely his association of the “true” product with how it is presented to him.

    Had you previously given him real cheerios with box colors a, b and c then you could have gotten away with d and e and f.

    It’s routine. Same reason your child prefers certain routines and rituals during his day. Routine breeds comfort, and the routine of the red box conveys to him he’s getting his real cheerios.

    You are obviously taking a number of great steps to make him less biased by branding, which is great. Make sure that you get the grandparents in on the act (heck, let them know that they can give him the generic cereal so they can save money, cereal is crazy expensive).

    It’s hard to severe experiences from “branding”. You son might have a favorite park, which has the brand of a certain route to get there, certain signage once you arrive, certain playground pieces once there, etc.

    Branding isn’t always branding, it is associations of the senses to experiences.

  19. Michele says:

    Sounds like the idea of eating the generic right along with him is a great idea.

    I would be more inclined not to buy the Fruity Cheerios unless I had a coupon and explain to him that you only buy it when it’s on sale. I have had success having my son (who’s now 6) help me on shopping trips by showing him what I have a coupon for and having him help to seek out the item. He’s been helping with this for about a year now. There are plenty of times when I have to tell him that we can’t get “that” cereal because we don’t have a coupon and it’s not on sale.

    Back to your son, putting it in the “red box” might just reinforce the notion that he can always have the “red box” cereal. Sure, withholding it might cause a meltdown in the beginning, but delaying that gratification will pay off in the long run.

    As far as reducing the influence of name brands, I think that it’s just important to explain the concept of marketing at an age-appropriate level, and keep reinforcing the values that you have. Consistently explain the trade-offs of buying “name brand” and what he can do with the extra money that he saves.

  20. ryan says:

    I have quite the opposite little man. We have been putting Cheerios in a different container for most of his five years. He is very particular, and we have not found another brand that we can substitute.

    Luckily Cheerios are usually one of the most discounted cereals available.

  21. Robert says:

    I recall reading a news item last year about a study in which the researchers gave a group of kids the same foods in two groups: unmarked and placed in McDonald’s packaging. The kids consistently rated the ‘McDonald’s food’ better in taste and so on.
    We all make emotional associations, and with kids they’re even stronger for being novel and essentially unfiltered by experience or ‘sophistication’. Perhaps your son was at least initially ‘flash programmed’ by the emotional impact of ‘the treat from Grandma…’ and it filtered out from there.
    You, of course, are looking at it through the filters of your experiences and interests so the ‘branding’ question comes quickly to your mind; I’d suggest that what you’re really dealing with goes much deeper than that. Perhaps the ‘brand’, in his mind, is really ‘Grandma’s treat’, not ‘Fruity Cheerios’.

  22. Sarah says:

    I have a 2 yo and a 3 yo. One thing I do is just talk to them about the difference. For example, in this situation, I would say something like “The red box costs more, but it is the same as what is in the other box. And if we always buy the red box, and other things that cost more, Daddy will have to work more and more, and our family likes it when Daddy gets to be home more. So let’s save that extra money for what we need. Sometimes we’ll get the red box, when it is on sale, as a treat, and sometimes we will get what costs less.” This is a conversation we have occassionally. I try to make sure that my kids don’t feel guilty for my husband having to work to provide for us (we also talk about his job being a blessing, and he has a good job he likes, etc.) But I want them to start to understand the connnection between the hours my husband works and the things we buy, and that things just don’t appear in our house.

  23. NZ Chick says:

    One thing we do is not leave any cereals, baking products etc in the boxes/bags. We have plastics for everything and it works really well – when the kids look for what cereal they want in the morning they can see through the plastic, doesnt matter what brand it is, they see that ricies are ricies, cornies are cornies. I know some people have issues with generics, but as long as they don’t know they are generics there isn’t a problem.

    We have also explained to the kids that our money doesnt go very far now, and would they like only this, or a choice of more things(ie more generics). We stress this with clothes as well (they are 5-8) and they would rather have more than a ‘branded’ piece. They are starting to see the value of getting more for your buck which is great!

    They are also learning that if they have a choice (limited by cost ie under $2 for bars) they have to look beyond the packaging. They love choosing as it makes them feel grownup.

  24. Extraordinary Wife says:

    My kids’ cereal always goes into a plastic “cereal” container, and the cardboard container gets recycled. They never notice what “brand” it is.

  25. Rebeckah says:

    I thought this was so interesting.

  26. Ranga says:

    With the second tactic, your child might one day feel you have been cheating him all these years, instead of trying to convince him about the truth.
    It is a good shortcut, anyways.

  27. Kate says:

    Sorry Trent:
    Somehow I missed that you were going to put it in the red box right in front of him.
    My apologies.

  28. lemniskate67 says:

    I’m pretty sure the tightwad gazette talked a lot about this… she did something with letting her son earn the money for a storebought snack and helping him see what was the best value. While it may not work on such a young one, what I’d do is show them how much money the “red box” kind costs, and then show them how much more of the generic they can get for the same amount of money.

  29. J.D. says:

    I think the more important point here is that this sort of thing affects adults, too. Children are more susceptible to it, perhaps, because they’re not fully aware of what goes on. But not even most adults are fully aware of how they’re manipulated. Advertising and marketing and branding have very real power, and they do influence the decisions of even the most guarded shopper. I’ve heard many people claim that they’re shopping decisions aren’t influenced by marketing (etc.). Whenever I hear them say this, I think to myself: “This person is probably the most influenced, and doesn’t even know it.” There’s a reason corporations spend billions of dollars on marketing every year. It works.

  30. Traci says:

    Our two year old has her preferences as well. We’ve managed to mix things up by putting her favorites into different containers (I use plastic cups without the lids tp put the cereal in for snacking out of) and also by mixing the colorful Cheerios (eventually we too switched to the generic) in with the toasty O’s that faired better for her according to the labeling. Eventually, the colorful ones ran out and she just kept right on eating the toasty O’s. We use this method as much as possible, but when it won’t work (prepackaged items, for example) we just say “all gone; you can have this or that” and let her choose which new item she would prefer. She’s of the “sensitive” variety, so we have to tread lightly (and endure the occasional tantrum) at times but so far, these methods seem work well. She’s quite in tune with “toy branding” as well-she knows which characters she likes and which ones she doesn’t, so that’s going to present some challenges!

  31. katie says:

    I also use generic clear plastic containers to keep our cereal. I have noticed that the kids can tell by taste when I pull a switch, though. I usually do buy brand name cereals (combined with sales and coupons) because while they are somewhat nutritionally deficient, the generic stuff is usually nutritionally void. At least the brand name stuff occasionally has a couple of grams of fiber.

  32. Michelle says:

    I also use plastic containers to store my cereal and my kids can usually smell a rat when I make a switch – ugh! All I can say is that if he did accept the generic cereal, then carry on! My guess is that since he did not see the red box, he was worried it was not the same thing. Which, really, when you get down to it is the essence of branding. People are afraid of change. Thinking outside the box (literally) is a great lesson to teach him now!

  33. Lynne says:

    My grandchildren (now 8 & 10) consistently asked me to buy high sugar cereals that they saw advertised on tv. Cost is really high. Eventually, I started buying store-brand of the same type, and/or the bagged cereal of the same type, whichever presented the best overall buy. The kids have never complained that the brandname tastes better. They understand also that packaging adds to the expense of the cereal, and is damaging to the planet.

  34. cv says:

    Count me among those who think that this probably has more to do with routine than with “branding”. Your son has probably learned that regular cheerios come in a yellow box, fruity ones come in a red box, and corn flakes come in a green box. Therefore, when he wants fruity cheerios, he wants the red box. I would work on getting him to understand that the same product can come in different types of packaging – show him how you can tell from the pictures of the product on the box and the words on the package, not just the colors and logos. You can show him that other foods he likes can come in different packages – sometimes pasta comes in a blue box, sometimes a green one. You can also explain that you buy the package that’s cheaper.

    At less than three years old and with the limitations that you’ve placed on his exposure to advertising, I wouldn’t worry that he wants the name brand because it’s cooler or he thinks it’s better. He just learned that he liked what was inside a particular box, and children can be pretty cautious about the unfamiliar when it comes to food.

  35. Lou says:

    i agree that branding is not the only issue here. A related issue might be a child simply valuing whatever is rare or associated with non-parent adult. In my case it was about house rules.

    My sister & I had kids nearly the same age. Our child-rearing philosophies varied in many ways. Eg: She allowed sugared cereals; I didn’t. I was very flexible about bedtime; she wasn’t.
    Part of the pleasure our kids felt in visiting was simply the joy of the forbidden – sugar cereals for my son; late bedtimes for her kids.

    Our theory was that rules vary in the outside world, so it was good for the kids to experience that variety in the extended family. “Wherever you are staying – those are the house rules that you obey.” The “kids” are in their 30’s now & still talk about the fun of being in a house with different rules.

  36. Great Post. My wifer and I are finalising a book on this topic. Due out in mid-2009. I’ll keep you posted.



  37. steve says:

    The story Trent wrote reminds me of the time friend’s two children, aged 3 and 5, started requesting Subway sandwiches at one point last year. She had only brought them there once.

    It turned out that what they wanted most was a sandwich with the pretty watermelon-styled paper wrapper that Subway was using at the time.

    re: tactics, I would just use what works to keep them happy. (switching the cereal into a brand name box, for example. I doubt discussing your purchasing philosohies or things like that is something they can even process at this point in their cognitive development. They haven’t been trained enough by branding, or have the metacognitive skills, to start “deconstructing” concepts that barely exist for them yet. The world is a lot simpler for them at their age than it is for an adult.

  38. steve says:

    I like NZ Chick’s approach. She wrote, “We have also explained to the kids that ..would they like only this, or a choice of more things(ie more generics). We stress this with clothes as well (they are 5-8) and they would rather have more than a ‘branded’ piece. They are starting to see the value of getting more for your buck which is great!”

    This puts the discussion in terms that mean something for the child (giving them a choice of a branded name, or a generic or less expensive version AND something else) and lets them make a choice between the same options. If you set a cereal budget and keep it, this tactic works, is eductional, and gives them a sense of agency. In other words, they get personal benefit from the decision as opposed to a talk or lecture, and at the same time you set the budget so the finances stay in control.

  39. steve says:

    Of course, even one year of age difference in the range 1-8 would make a difference in what approaches would be effective.

  40. Karen says:

    If you’re on more of an oatmeal diet for both nutritional as well as frugal reasons, I’d just discuss that this is what we eat in our house. There are a few reasons – it’s better for him and easier on your pocketbook (a value I’m sure you’ll be sharing with him) It also makes going to Grandma’s something special, and that’s nice. Sometimes it’s easier not to even start with the high priced sugar laden cereals. If they don’t have them, they don’t miss them.

  41. cory says:

    We used a lot of the tactics listed. What mostly worked, I think, was that we were always talking about the value of things, and how commercials try to ‘get you’ to buy stuff. Of course, we didn’t watch commercials for years, but eventually, they will see them – on billboards, in magazines, as well as tv. Also, we were SO good with our first 2 kids – but then the other 2 came along, and it’s a lot harder when there’s older kids around. Now they are all teens, and I love seeing how they’ve turned into the same tightwads their parents are! They take pride in showing their friends the money they save over ‘brand’ names. So in conclusion, I suppose, your kids will turn out fine because of what fine parents you are :)

  42. Lisa Ide says:

    When my husband interviewed for a job at Frito-Lay many years ago, they proudly bragged to him that children are “brand loyal” to Cheetoes by the age of age of five. To which my husband replied that they should say the age of three because our then three-year old daughter was definitely brand loyal. So brand loyalty is carefully cultivated in children as well as adults.

    When we bring my son to the grocery store, we let him choose one bag of cereal and one bag of chips. He doesn’t really understand the concept of cost (he is autistic) so we had to find other ways to help him choose without appearing to make the choice for him. We try to always approach the cereal aisle from the bagged-cereal end (on one end in our grocery store) or the generic chip end (also on one end). We then stand with him and let him choose from those. We’ve noticed that if we come from the other end (expensive) of the aisle, he won’t make it to the bagged cereal, he’ll choose something else and we have to live with the cost.

    Thankfully, certain larger brand names seem to be stocked together at our store and we try to take advantage of geography to steer our son away from those choices. He is usually so thrilled when he sees the huge bags of cereal that the boxes don’t seem to do much for him. And when he makes the choice, he’s happy and we don’t have to throw anything away because he didn’t eat it. So strategic product placement that usually works to keep you brand loyal can also be made to work the other way.

  43. Mary says:

    My son (7) loves Grands Homestyle Original Grand biscuits. I have tried the generic, which I can’t tell apart, and other types of Grands to no avail! He isn’t even around when I unpackage and put in the oven, but he knows they aren’t “normal”. He’s a pretty picky eater, I just hope for coupons!

  44. Mary says:

    I also use plastic containers for cereal. We have a small family, so it helps them last longer. I put most pantry items in plastic containers to keep them fresher, bugs out and the pantry more organized. Over the years we have tried many different brands and generics. We learned to buy smaller quantities the first time we tried any brand, name or generic. We have had generic “fruity o’s that were what we called “petrified” cereal. No matter how long we let it soak in milk, it was still hard as a rock. Trial and error always make for interesting lessons learned.

  45. Jade says:

    My mom and grandma did a similar thing with me one time, but it was with a hamburger and fries. I kept griping that I didn’t want homemade hamburgers, I wanted a hamburger from a fast food place. I must have been 7 or 8 at the time… I think…

    Anyway, I was sent outside to play while they made dinner, and then came inside and found my dinner from a “fast food place”. They had gotten some parchment paper and wrapped the burger in it and wrote “Grandma’s Place” on top. They also figured out some way to use paper plates to make a little cardboard fries holder and wrote “Grandma’s Place” on that as well! Same goes for the drink, which may very well have been just water or juice or a homemade milkshake I can’t remember, but made to look like it came from “Grandma’s Place”.

    For some weird reason, I liked it better than regular ol’ homemade stuff, so much that I could have sworn some new fast food joint called “Grandma’s Place” must have opened up someplace, even though I never did see it…

    Gosh, now I’m craving a hamburger and want to go to Jack in the Box… Maybe I should just get the stuff at the grocery store instead and wrap the finished burger in parchment paper and write, “Poor College Student’s Place” on it!

    You know… my dad is convinced that Diet Coke tastes better than the store brand… I wish there was some way to pull this switch on him and see what happens, but he only drinks it from a can, not a 2-liter bottle I could swap labels on. Oh well, that’s why I bought Coca Cola stock, he drinks enough of it he could manipulate the market!

  46. KellyD says:

    I had this same problem with my son about this age. So I poured the generic cereal at the counter then brought to bowl over to the table. He never knew the difference. When he got older we did math and figured up the difference in the name brand and the generic. The money was placed in a jar and he got to see how much money he had saved. We would occasionally buy a small toy with the money saved when he was little, then when he got older he saved it. It worked out nicely.

  47. Jane says:

    Get canisters and start serving whatever cereal you have in the canisters?

  48. Britt Landon says:

    As the mother of 8 kids ages 4-17, I feel well-prepared to speak on this topic. We have chosen the direct approach. Buy the type of cereal you choose (generic if the price is what you want to pay, designer if you have the coupon). Serve the cereal. If the child decides not to eat it, they won’t die if they miss a meal. My guess is that they will eventually eat (and learn to enjoy) it. BUT, kids are so different. We have one that would actually skip the meal, allow others to finish the generic brand, and then eat the next time the “designer” cereal is eaten. That’s okay, because you have several years to work with this child. Be consistent over the years, stick to your guns, allow the child to spend HIS OR HER OWN money on wasteful items, and let him or her also reap the “rewards” of poor choices. Don’t bail them out, but let them LEARN. Our children will not always see things the way we do; they do need chances to make poor decisions. They also need to learn to live with the results.

  49. Kate says:

    You’re the one paying the bills, so you decide what a toddler will eat. In our house, branding makes no difference – we look at the total picture (price, nutrition, quality, and so forth) and make a decision from that. Our kids have grown up knowing the value of a dollar, and are intelligent consumers. They’re quite happy with clothing from discount stores such as Target or Walmart, and will buy store brands. You do not have to be at the mercy of advertising and branding – make your own decisions based on your own research.

  50. Are you serious?? says:

    Is it okay if I take some content from your blog, put it on my blog and call it my own work??

    This is exactly what you are doing when you use a Fruity Cheerios box to dupe your own child into thinking it is the same product he was enjoying before.

    Please don’t steal someone else’s work. Can you imagine the number of hard-working Iowans who put their time and energy into that Fruity Cheerios product?? Could you look them in the eye and tell them why is was okay to pass off a counterfit version of something they created??

    You are better off to decide which product works best for your budget and move on.

  51. Kim says:

    My husband was raised in a more affluent family than I and was accustomed to brand names, getting a new wardrobe when school began each year, etc. Unfortunately for him, when we got married we were on a very limited budget. I simply could not make our budget stretch to his brand name tastes on a generic budget no matter how hard I tried. For years I simply poured generic syrup into the Mrs. Butterworth’s container.

    It had more to do with memories of childhood than specific taste, I think. He preferred his Kraft mac n cheese to my homemade with the three cheese sauce, and always preferred his mother’s meatloaf to mine even when I used her recipe.

    He has been partially cured by doing the grocery shopping, although I find that when he does it our grocery budget is increased rather dramatically.

    My children (all now grown) have a brand preference. All year we ate puffed rice, puffed wheat and puffed corn cereals (the great big malt-o-meal or store brand bags) or homemade flavored oatmeal. At Christmas, however, I served them Lucky Charms, a tradition we have today. It is such a strong tradition and has such strong family and childhood memories that I include a box in their Christmas packages, even sending a box to my son each year when he was serving in Iraq. I don’t mind that kind of brand loyalty.

  52. Jess says:

    @Kathy #5

    I had exactly the same impression.

    My vote goes to the imitating theory.

  53. Jules says:

    Brands? What brands? :-)

    Luckily for us TV commercials (at least, during the hours we watch) are relatively devoid of commercials, and the ones that do feature food are comparatively healthy (sauces for stir-fries, soups, etc). But I honestly don’t know what I’d do if our kids decided they wanted Brand X Whatever.

  54. prodgod says:

    I’m with Katie on this one. My kids can almost always taste the difference and to be honest, so can I. Breakfast cereals are not all created equal and I would count Cheerios (and all of their varied types) as the best out there. Higher in nutritional value and lower in sugar. If your son can’t taste the difference in quality yet, he will! :-)

    Same goes for mac & cheese. We’ve tried the generic, but my kids noticed a difference, even though they had no idea we had made a switch.

    However, on other food items where the store-brand is the same as the name-brand, we go with the generic and nobody minds.

  55. Penelope says:

    I’m not sure that this has much to do with “branding” as much as the fact that we’re human… creatures of habit. Your son is familiar with the red box, not the fact that it’s a brand. He gets a warm fuzzy feeling when he sees the box. When you brought out the new box, that he wasn’t familiar with, he was leery. I probably would be too (I like my Life cereal), but what we do with that reaction is key and keeping an open mind. I definitely recommend eating the generic brand with him and let him know that there are lots of things that look the same and taste differently; if we don’t try them how will we know if we like them or not? Good luck!

  56. Gilora says:

    I tried something like this with my four year old. He loves the regular Cheerios in the yellow box. One day I bought an off brand in a plastic bag. I gave him some in a bowl, making sure he never saw the bag. He took one bite, pushed the bowl away and said “these are NOT delicious!” Needless to say, I wound up eating the bag of off-brand Cheerios. He was right, they were NOT delicious. Now I buy the regular Cheerios on sale with coupons, or at Costco. Some things just aren’t worth fighting about.

  57. Marc says:

    Trent, I’ve been thinking about this same question in regards to older children. What will you do when your son is a teenager and his classmates judge him based on whether or not he has the “cool” brand? Personally, while I would like to stress how unimportant brand loyalty is, I would hate to have my teenager made fun of because of my frugality. Thoughts?

  58. GrandmaTippyToes says:

    I’m with Gilora….sometimes the generics just don’t taste good! I think generic “poptarts” smell like vitamin tablets when you open the wrapper..yuck! What’s wrong with your child having preferences? If he’s not eating the cheerios everyday, I think it’s worth buying them when they’re on sale or with coupons and serving him what he likes. Of course, as I say that, I’ll be the first to admit that I do store our cereal in plastic containers so the kids don’t see the packaging/brand. My five year old is now going through the stage where he wants every cereal, fruit roll, etc. just because Indiana Jones is on the box. I cut out the label from a box that grandma bought and taped it to the container. He enjoyed the taste of the generic before he saw the Indy box, so he’s oblivious to the switch. Advertising is powerful!!

  59. twodiffsocks says:

    Dump the box! explain that this is what we have in the house to eat….take it or leave it. As a parent-you are in charge of the food items you are willing to provide, a child is in charge of him/herself and eating–NOT the other way around.

    I know its harsh but guess what? in the end a child will eat or dont & no one will starve.

    Exactly how my moms raised me & i’m doing the same with my 9 & 14 year old.

    Best of luck

  60. karen says:

    I very much like the idea of pouring the generic into the FC box in front of your son. As you say, he will eventually understand that the cereal he’s enjoying is X Loops – and I think, as you’re implying, that revelation may help him be more discerning about other branding. “I want a Frisbee, not a Throw-O!” Honey, do you remember Fruity Cheerios? Why not give the Throw-O a chance?

  61. Catherine says:

    “I like NZ Chick’s approach. She wrote, ‘We have also explained to the kids that ..would they like only this, or a choice of more things(ie more generics). We stress this with clothes as well (they are 5-8) and they would rather have more than a ‘branded’ piece. They are starting to see the value of getting more for your buck which is great!’ ”

    Getting off-topic, but I’m not sure I like the more-is-always better approach here. With clothes, the older I get, the more I find that fewer high-quality, stylish items serve me better than a closet-full of cheap, disposable clothes (and the former are probably better ecologically-speaking). With food I’m happier and healthier with less food that’s well-prepared (which is a completely different issue than paying for the advertising of the food).

    I like the general approach of throwing out the packaging as soon as it comes in the house, divorcing it from the eating experience. (In this specific case, it doesn’t necessarily make sense, but, as I said, it could be a general approach.) And two years old is not too young to start on table manners: commercial packaging does not belong on the table, and mealtime with others is supposed to be more about the people than the food. (This latter part is considerably more difficult with small kids, as so much effort has to be spent on just getting the food into the kid. But they can grow into it.)

  62. michael bash says:

    Don’t give the child store-bought cereal. There are parents who don’t give their kids Coca-Cola and such. Our kids ate what we ate, put through a marvelous food mill (no electricity needed); they went from teat to cup, never knew “formula” or “crema”, ate everything, i.e. the alternative was going hungry (“This is a home, not a restaurant.”) and learned to cook with confidence over time. All these cooking blog comments: my kids liked it but my husband didn’t. What is that?

  63. It’s amazing how strongly aware kids are of brands at such a young age. I always say, “pick your battles”, so if trying to negotiate the merits of choosing a generic over brand name with a two year old is worth it to you, then go for it. Otherwise, I would stick with the old box.

    Another idea would be to have him decorate his own reusable cereal box that would be for his use only and then put the generic stuff in there.

  64. Battra92 says:

    @michael bash: If I ever had kids I would NEVER be one of those parents who force fed their kids things that they didn’t want to eat. My dad was of that mindset and many a night I went hungry (and ate fattening crap) because he was too lazy to make anything I liked that was healthy (his idea of cooking would be hamburgers 6 days of the week and a casserole on Sunday.)

    Seriously, some people just don’t like tastes. If you will eat anything, that’s more of a problem than a picky eater in my view.

  65. SwingCheese says:

    @Jade – I have, for years, alternated between buying Diet Coke (on sale) and the generic or store brand pop. Although I’ll drink either one, I truly can taste a difference between them. (Though in what is perhaps an overall nod to my tastes, I prefer the generic. It tastes less artificially sweet somehow. :)

  66. Brendan says:

    I have to play devil’s advocate here.

    First, what is branding? It is a way of associating a reputation with a product.

    As someone with allergies, I greatly value finding a new brand that I can trust. If you buy the same brand of something, there is a much greater chance that similar manufacturing practices will have been used. No certainty, but greater chance.

    Would anyone seriously claim that buying a “generic” automobile would be a good idea? Clearly not. You buy havily based on the brand reputation, even on the affordable end (yes, there is prestige involved in buying a luxury car, which is the thing you are fighting against here I think, but the point is that there is utility to brand identity other than the luxury patina).

    Also, there are many other products where the total cost of ownership is much greater than the purchase price. Things that get heavy use, like furniture, kitchen tools, and appliances benefit from strong construction which is only likely to be invested in by companies that care about their reputation, and they will charge a premium for that. For example, compare the quality of furniture made by Knoll to knock-offs. The reputation of that firm for quality is quite valuable.

    So to conclude, I think that teaching a child to completely distrust brand names is the wrong approach. Instead, teach them to understand what they are buying and when a reputation is important.

    Also, re: Michael Bash: children live in a wider world than just the home. If you say “my way or the highway” sooner or later they will choose the highway, and you will have damaged a precious relationship. I’m not saying that you should give them everything they want, merely that ultimatums (“this is a home not a restaurant”) will create resentment.

  67. Heath says:

    I don’t actually think it’s about branding, but about routine – at 2, particularly later 2, kids must have every. thing. the. same. way. at. all. times. It’s a very ritualistic age – so I don’t think it’s actually about brand-name vs generic, I think it’s about him imprinting on whichever type he had first. If he’d had the generic first, you’d be having to pour the fruity cheerios into the malt-o-meal bag to get him to eat them!

  68. STL Mom says:

    When my kids were two years old, they firmly believed that a sandwich cut into squares did not taste as good as the same sandwich cut into triangles.
    Also, if one child said, “I got the red cup!” then the other child’s drink, in the blue cup, was ruined, destroyed, undrinkable. Luckily for my blood pressure, they grew out of that stage.
    In terms of cereal, I’ve got no help for you. My kids mostly eat pancakes, or eggs and toast.

  69. TJ says:

    My kids don’t get name brand cereal, so they don’t care what the box is. What I see here is a 2 year old’s true need for routine. The cereal comes in a red box, so cereal should always be in a red box.

    I speak as a mom of a 2 year old. It’s a matter of what fits into his order in the world. I think the idea of helping him to understand that the cereal he likes comes in many different colored boxes is key. Imitation sounds like a good way. Although at this point, always putting them into the red box isn’t going to reinforce the brand, it could become a problem later. But sometimes we have to do what we have to do to keep a 2 year olds world in order.

  70. Courtney says:

    See also:

    Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture by Juliet B. Schor


    Affluenza by Oliver James

  71. Nick says:

    If it looks and tastes the same, he’s just going to need to suck it up. Maybe try and explain why you prefer to buy the generic cereal, and ask why he prefers Cheerios? That way you can get a little personal finance education in early, save some money, and have a happy, educated child. That’s a few birds with one stone.

  72. What an interesting experiment! I think it’s fascinating how strong branding is even on young children. The marketers really do know what they are doing; don’t they?

    I didn’t learn that generics are just as good or better until I was in my mid-twenties, so I commend you for even trying to teach your son.

  73. denice says:

    We’re worried about “trust” issues, when you’re filling the box right in front of him? Seriously? Heck even if you “sneak” the generic into the box, I am pretty sure this is not where his basis of “trust” will come from. Unless of course we’re talking about when he’s a teen and he can pretty much “trust” that he is going to have to pay for the crazy-expensive stuff on his own, because Dad won’t buy him the hundred-dollar jeans. Yeah, I’m okay with that kind of trust. But then, I’m one of those crazy nuts who plays Santa Claus.

  74. tossin says:

    Heres an idea, get one of those tupperware cereal containers, and dump whatever cereal into it.
    1-Buy whatever you deem appropriate
    2-Kid wont know the difference
    3-Keeps cereal fresher than the bag in box system, Bonus!

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