Study Reveals Marketers' Powerful Tool in the Cereal Aisle

VIDEO: Cereal Companies Use Eye Contact to Entice Kids

ABC News' Mara Schiavocampo and Cameron Brock report:

Cartoon characters on cereal boxes could be enticing children in unexpected ways, a new Cornell University study says.

The study reveals a possible secret weapon in marketing children's cereal, where the characters on the box may be using their eyes to beckon kids at the grocery store.

Researchers say they found that far beyond the reach of their Saturday morning TV home turf, Tony the Tiger, Lucky the Leprechaun and their colorful friends may be using eye contact to entice kids in the supermarket aisle.

"Simply seeing eyes, having somebody look at you - even if it's a cartoon character - draws a lot more attention," Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab said.

Wansink and his team looked at 57 different boxes of kids' cereal, and when they followed the eyes of Toucan Sam and his buddies, 51 of the cheery characters had eyes angled downward - aimed squarely kid-high, 48 inches and under.

"The trust level goes up about 18% if you make eye contact with anything," Wansink said. "This is even simply a picture on a box, but also increases your likelihood to want to purchase the cereal."

As part of the same study, scientists handed out two different versions of Trix boxes to college students and found that the students reported feeling 28 percent more connected to the version of the box's rabbit that held eye contact than the one with his eyes averted.

Wansink said while the mascots' lingering gazes may be a coincidence - most are depicted staring excitedly at their bowl of cereal - the effect is still capable of triggering powerful urges.

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