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The Influence of Brand-Equity Mascots on Children in relationship to Food Purchases Healthier Choices - Beverages, Healthier Choices - Food, Healthier Choices - Plant Based, Healthier Choices - Snacks

Blacksburg, VA, USA

The influence of brand-equity mascots used by food, beverage and restaurant companies on the diet of children and parents

Taylor Brownell

Thesis to be submitted to the faculty of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State

University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of

Master of Science


Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise

Vivica I. Kraak (committee chair)

Adrienne Holz Ivory

Valisa Hedrick Sarah Misyak

May 9, 2017          Blacksburg, VA

Keywords: brand-equity mascots, food and beverage marketing, dietary behaviors, children, parents, Q methodology

The influence of brand-equity mascots used by food, beverage and restaurant companies on the diet of children and parents

Page 37. Like brand mascots used to advertise food, beverage, and restaurant products, Old Joe and Marlboro Man can lead to the formation of parasocial relationships between character and child. These relationships can influence children to prefer food and beverages that are associated with brand mascots. This becomes an issue when these products are energy-dense and lack vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber that are necessary for children’s growth and development.  

Page 38.

Perhaps a similar strategy as what occurred during the Master Settlement Agreement could be used for food, beverage, and restaurant companies who engage in brand mascot marketing to youth?

Parasocial Relationships with Brand Mascots and Licensed Media Characters 

There are several ways in which young people can form attractions to brand mascots and media characters. One of these ways is through the formation of parasocial relationships between children and media characters and/or brand mascots.85,86 Parasocial relationships are “emotionally-tinged relationships that people develop with media characters.”85 Parasocial relationships are formed first through repeated instances of parasocial interactions, which occur when individuals interact with media characters and form personal, conversational, and two sided experiences.85 These repeated interactions may develop into parasocial relationships, where individuals form special bonds that are “emotionally-tinged” with characters and children think of them as real-life friends.86

Children and adolescents ages 5 to 12 have been shown to form the strongest parasocial relationships with these characters.85 These relationships are strengthened when children find characters of the same sex and feel they are “realistic with positive, prosocial qualities.”85 Brunick and Putnam et al. (2016) describe three factors that affect the formation of these relationships, which include attachment, character personification, and social realism.86 Brand mascots and media characters who have the ability to form attachments with young people can foster the feelings of belongingness and safety.86 Additionally, characters who possess humanlike qualities and behaviors are more relatable to children and have similar attributes to young


Moreover, the development of parasocial relationships in education and interactive learning games have shown to be beneficial.86 Using popular media characters in interactive games whom children have had exposure to, can aid in the development of children’s learning.86 Intelligent characters are a popular technique used in many of these games, where characters are interactive, can talk, and can reply to children. These games are especially beneficial when characters are empathetic and sensitive to children.86 Over time, these characters can help foster the development of parasocial relationships, where kids learn to trust and form attachments to these characters because of the timing and conversational responses in the games.86


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