Children Are Price Sensitive Too: The Immediate and Long-Term Effects of Price Promotions on Children’s Healthy Choices
Prior research in consumer behavior has invested tremendous effort in isolating the negative impact of marketing, such as fast-food advertisements, on childhood obesity. The current research takes a different approach: instead of limiting marketing of unhealthy options, we leverage a classic marketing tool to encourage children’s choice of healthy options. We partnered with UNICEF to launch three field experiments at three elementary schools in Panamá to examine the effectiveness of price-promotion interventions (i.e., coupons to be redeemed at kiosks in the schools) in boosting children’s choice of healthy products. We found that children’s responses to coupons mirrored those of adults, with short-term boosts during the promotion period and long-term deficit after the incentives were removed. Furthermore, we varied the processing ease of coupon messages (i.e., directly communicated price versus derived price) and found a divergent impact of price promotions on children’s redemption rates based on (1) their age (i.e., developmental level) and (2) repeated exposure to the promotion. This research provides novel insights into the impact of economic incentives on children, and contributes to the bubbling research on children’s health behaviors and motivation, cognitive developmental models, and the positive and negative impact of marketing, pricing, and repetition.