Catie Lichten reviews the new advert for Haribo Starmix.
Science is used to sell products all the time, with the use of sciency sounding ingredients and behind-the-scenes consumer psychology. But since I saw the latest Haribo advert (above) last week, I’ve been wondering: could I have witnessed the first time that an advertisement spoofs a science experiment?
The 40-second TV spot shows adorable little kids faced with a single Haribo Starmix sweet and told that if they can resist eating it, they will receive a second one. Child after child tries it. They resort to all sorts of tactics including sniffing and licking the candy but cannot resist eating it, leading the methodical girl in oversized glasses and a white lab coat to conclude, “Haribo is just too good.”
The advert is based on the famous Marshmallow Experiment carried out at Stanford University in the early 70s where hundreds of 4-6 year-old subjects were each asked to sit alone at a table in front of a single marshmallow (or Oreo or pretzel). They were also told that if they could resist their temptation to eat it for fifteen minutes, they would be rewarded with two.
Just like in the ad, the kids struggled like crazy to resist the marshmallow’s allure (you can find cute re-enactments on YouTube like the one below). Only about one third managed to hold out until the time was up.
But the coolest part of the marshmallow experiment is actually missing from the advert. It’s the follow-up and it got the study into the headlines a few years ago (there’s a great article here).
As the original subjects got older, the psychologist who devised the study, Walter Mischel, got curious about how they were doing. He tracked them down and found that the kids who resisted eating the marshmallow (those who could ‘delay gratification’) scored better on standardised tests, were healthier, and had better jobs and more successful relationships.
I suppose the punch line of the science, which is in fact still ongoing, is best left out of the ad. Reminders about self-control probably do not sell candy. Yet, I do find myself tempted to go buy a bag– only to practice sitting alone with them without eating any of course.
Catie is a PhD student based in Edinburgh. She likes writing about science in the moments when she’s not thinking about yeast and sugar (a yeast might pass the marshmallow test, but only because it’s about 5,000 times smaller than a marshmallow) and contributes regularly to eu:sci magazine (www.eusci.org.uk) and Jumpstart (http://www.jumpstartuk.co.uk/randd-news-and-events/).