Smiling faces on food packages can increase adults' purchase likelihood for children

Sara Williamson, Courtney Szocs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Manufacturers often include smiling faces on food packages, especially those targeted towards children. Prior research suggests that anthropomorphized images in general, and smiling faces in particular, are an effective marketing tool that encourage food choice and consumption among children. However, it is not clear how adult consumers, who often make food purchases for children, respond to smiling faces on packaging when making decisions for a child recipient. The results of four experiments show that food packages with (vs. without) smiling faces activate child-related thoughts which leads to expectations of making a child happy with the food and ultimately greater purchase likelihood for the child recipient. The serial effects of smiling faces on purchase likelihood through child-related thoughts and the expectations of a child's emotional reaction are robust to an array of products with more and less appealing flavors. Further, a smile line in the absence of eyes does not catalyze the same serial mechanism. Overall, our findings suggest that marketers should exercise caution when utilizing smiling faces on food packages, especially when packages contain unhealthy foods; and, consumers should be aware of the effects that this seemingly innocent packaging feature can have on their product responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105301
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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