As I was reading a marketing textbook, I came across a paragraph that stated research has shown children as young as two can show brand preference (although I haven't yet searched for the source in the back of the book to check what research it's referring to.)

Research shows that children evidence brand preferences at age two, and these preferences often last a lifetime. This knowledge prompted the licensing of the well-known Craftsman brand name to MGA Entertainment for its children's line of My First Craftsman toys and power tools and Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated Kids

Marketing 12th Edition - Kerin Hartley Rudelius

Is it really the case that children are showing brand preference, preferring one brand over others when presented options, because of a specific affinity for that brand?

I'd be more inclined to believe that such children aren't showing a brand preference, but are simply not familiar with the other products. For instance, if I ask my son if he wants a Pop Tart or a Toaster Pastry, he's going to say Pop Tart because that's the term he knows. In such a case, it has more to do with how we've taught him about brands/foods, and not always distinguishing between them, then him showing a preference.

Sources cited by textbook:

Deborah Roedder John, "Consumer Socialization of Children: A Retrospective Look at Twenty-Five Years of Research," Journal of Consumer Research, December 1999, pp. 183-213.

Gwen Bachmann Achenreinver and Deborah Roudder John, "The Meaning of Brand Names to Children: A Developmental Investigation," Journal of Consumer Psychology 13, no. 3 (2003), pp. 205-19.

Elizabeth S. Moore, William L. Wilkie, and Richard J. Lutz, "Passing the Torch: Intergenerational Influences as a Source of Brand Equity," Journal of Marketing, April 2002, pp. 17-37.

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    $\begingroup$ Isn't that what "brand preference" really is? Familiarity and recognition? $\endgroup$
    – Greg Hewgill
    Sep 9, 2015 at 2:48
  • $\begingroup$ @GregHewgill Brand preference is choosing a specific brand over alternatives because of a variety of reasons. But, choosing a specific brand because you don't understand or know that there are alternatives isn't really brand preference, it's more an example of a product being genericized. Or with toddlers, I think it's a Pop vs. Soda deal, where their word for a type of product happens to be a brand name (on that map, see Coke used to refer to all soda pop). $\endgroup$
    – CreationEdge
    Sep 9, 2015 at 2:55
  • $\begingroup$ My youngest uses "Chicken Nuggets" to refer to a particular chicken-oriented chain restaurant, because he knows seeing their logo means he's probably about to eat some chicken nuggets. When he gets chicken nuggets somewhere else (e.g. homemade, and I make amazing chicken nuggets thankyouverymuch), he's disappointed-angry because they don't come in the right bag. But while he "strongly prefers" that specific brand, he really likes the associated experience (the indoor playground, visiting with friends, french fries). Teasing those apart is pretty tough, I'd love to see research! $\endgroup$
    – Erica
    Sep 9, 2015 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ Disney is a brand. My girls aren't fooled when they see a cartoon that isn't Disney and have since probably before 2. When Inside Out came out the older one asked to go to the movie at age 4 because it was a Disney movie. Maybe there's something to that. I swear there's some black magic embedded into Frozen to make every girl love Elsa and never want to be Anna. Maybe brand recognition is actually successful subliminal messaging. Out of curiosity, why do you ask? Wondering if your kids will be upset if you buy Trader Joe's toasy Os instead of Cheerios? $\endgroup$
    – Kai Qing
    Sep 9, 2015 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ @KaiQing Because to me it seems in some cases to be less about brand preference and more about psychologically manipulating children, which seems unethical to me for a business to do. Some companies do have better products, but that doesn't always translate to the children's versions. Anyway, I have very few things where I have a brand preference, on account of growing up on generics, and it's mostly the same for my son, so I can't see if it holds true in my household. $\endgroup$
    – CreationEdge
    Sep 9, 2015 at 17:32

1 Answer 1


Is it really the case that children are showing brand preference, preferring one brand over others when presented options, because of a specific affinity for that brand?

According to research, it does seem that way.

A longitudinal study of 20 years (Guest, 1964) found that brand preferences originally expressed during the ages of 7–18 correlated with brand usage reported 20 years later, with the average amount of agreement between 1941 preferences and 1961 use being 23%. Guest concluded that early childhood experiences exert considerable influence upon later brand purchasing behaviour.

Your belief that such children aren't showing a brand preference, but are simply not familiar with the other products.

Ji (2002) whilst talking about the effects of brands such as Barbie and McDonalds on children, pointed out that parents, mass media and peers do play a part in it all:

Parents are probably the most instrumental in teaching children basic rational aspects of consumption, such as satisfying basic consumer needs in the marketplace (Riesman, Glazer, & Denny, 1956), understanding price–quality relationships (Moore & Stephens, 1975), handling money wisely (Marshall & Magruder, 1960), and shopping for different qualities among products (Ward, Wackman, & Wartella, 1977). Although parents are considered the primary socialization agents of children, no other agent of consumer socialization has received more attention (in the literature) than the mass media (Moschis, 1987; John, 1999). Through massmedia, including both advertising and editorial/program content (O’Guinn & Shrum, 1997), children may learn about new brands and products (Goldberg, Gorn, & Gibson, 1978), how to use products and who uses them (Atkin, 1978), realities and beliefs about them (Gorn & Florsheim, 1985), and preferences for them (Gorn & Goldberg, 1977). Peers also have input to children’s consumer socialization process. Studies show that young people learn the symbolic meaning of goods or expressive elements of consumption from their peers (Moschis & Moore, 1982). In addition, peers play an important role in the development of children’s preference for stores (McNeal, 1964), products (Hawkins & Coney, 1974), brands of selected products (Moschis, Moore, & Stanley, 1983), and things to collect (Baker & Gentry, 1996).

The thing is, a great deal of people do stick with what they know, and you could say this is in part due to people's comfort zones. Whether this phenomenon is the cause of people favouring certain brands is open to opinion. What is definite is that 100s of billions of dollars in business expenditure is spent looking at how they can use leverage such as television advertising, product design and even packaging, to encourage people to buy their product (Scheybani, 2015; Quelch & Cannon-Bonventre, 1983; Spanier, 2018). As well as with children, this affects adult behaviour, which as pointed out by Ji (2002), is passed onto children who in turn influence their peers through peer pressures.

Your title question: Do children really show brand preference at age 2?

Ji (2002) wrote (emphasis mine):

Why Study Children’s Relationships with Brands?
Studying the child–brand relationship phenomenon has its practical implications. First, children consume a wide range of products from the time they are born. For example, parents use J&J baby powder on their babies, feed them with Gerber baby food, and cover them with Huggies diapers. At around age two, children begin to eat their first solid food, often cereal (Cole & Cole, 1996), and develop relationships with certain brands, such as Cheerios, that may last a lifetime. As children grow older, they not only consume more brands such as McDonalds’ food and Barbie dolls through the purchases of their parents, but also begin to make purchases using their own income (McNeal, 1999). In all, children consume a wide range of brands and these early experiences may serve as definite influences on their choices in adulthood (Guest, 1942).


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Baker, S. M., & Gentry, J. W. (1996). Kids as collectors: A phenomenological study of first and fifth grade. In K. P. Corfman & J. G. Lynch (Eds.), Advances in consumer research (Vol. 23, pp. 132–137). Minneapolis, MN: Association for Consumer Research.
Available at: http://acrwebsite.org/volumes/7928/volumes/v23/NA-23

Cole, M., & Cole, S. R. (1996). The development of children (3rd ed.). New York: W. H. Freeman

Goldberg, M. E., Gorn, G. J., & Gibson, W. (1978). TV messages for snack and breakfast foods: do they influence children's preferences?. Journal of Consumer Research, 5(2), 73-81. DOI: 10.1086/208717

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Quelch, J., & Cannon-Bonventre, K. (1983). Better Marketing at the Point of Purchase. Harvard Business Review [Online]
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    $\begingroup$ There's a dozen references here, but which one addresses the age I asked about (age 2)? Your initial quote even says the longitudinal study was children 7+, not 2-. $\endgroup$
    – user19605
    Jun 25, 2018 at 6:39
  • $\begingroup$ Appologies for not addressing the age 2. I have edited to include that along with references used in the cited article. $\endgroup$ Jun 25, 2018 at 7:04
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting that the quote has a citation for when children start eating cereal (something that's common knowledge), but no citation for them developing brand preference for the example of Cheerios (which happens to be the #1 selling breakfast cereal, so unfortunately does nothing to disprove my hypothesis that it's not brand preference, merely that a 2 year old is not given any other choice, or that the parents call even the off-brand Cheerios, similar to Kleenex). $\endgroup$
    – user19605
    Jun 25, 2018 at 15:00

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