Tony the Tiger Is Manipulating You With His Eyes

April 3, 2014 | Andy Cush

What do nearly all cereal box mascots have in common? Besides having catchy, alliterative names like Tony the Tiger, Count Chocula, and Cap’n Crunch, and shilling for high-sugar, low-nutritional value breakfast foods, they’re nearly always looking down.

Think about it: there’s Tony, peering at you from on high; the Cap’n, eyes aimed at his spoon or his prodigious ‘stache; Count Chocula, gazing malevolently towards the floor. Why? Because if you’re a kid, nagging your parents to buy you Frosted Flakes or Honey Nut Cheerios or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, those mascots are looking at you. Eye contact builds trust, so if the cartoonish cereal spokesman is meeting your gaze, you’re more likely to be wooed by it.

A study at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab found that when a mascot makes eye contact, brand trust increases by 16 percent and brand connection grows by 28 percent. Cornell’s Brian Wansink explains:

The next time you find yourself in a dark supermarket aisle and it feels like Tony’s following you, remember: don’t make eye contact.