Thursday, 30 June 2022

Do three year olds recognise the McDonalds logo before they know their own name?

I was at a sugar industry conference yesterday on a panel with somebody from Jamie Oliver's pressure group Biteback 2030. I'm afraid that some of the things he said made me laugh out loud, none more so than his claim that more three year olds recognise the McDonalds logo than know their own name.

This was a new one to me, but a quick internet search showed that a very similar claim has been around for a while. In 2005, the Guardian said:
Half of all children aged four don't know their own name - but two thirds of three-year-olds can recognise the McDonald's golden arches.

The article further reckoned that...

The value of indirect marketing - ads that are not made expressly for kids but are seen by them anyway - runs into the hundreds of millions. The result is that today's average British child is familiar with up to 400 brand names by the time they reach the age of 10. Researchers report that our children are more likely to recognise Ronald McDonald and the Nike swoosh than Jesus. One study found that 69% of all three-year-olds could identify the McDonald's golden arches - while half of all four-year-olds did not know their own name.

This factoid also seems to have appeared in the 2002 book Fast Food Nation. I don't have a copy of it, but the press release makes the (more modest) claim that: 
Children often recognize the McDonald's logo before they recognize their own name.

The same claim was made in an undated BBC radio show.
I can believe that more three or four year olds might recognise popular logos before they can write or read their own name for the simple reason that children of this age cannot usually read or write. But know their own name?! It seems rather implausible so I set about looking for the evidence.
I struggled, to be honest. This study, based on interviewing 38 Australian children aged between 3 and 5 found 62% of them recognised popular fast food logos. But that was published in 2010 so it can't be what the Guardian was talking about.

The nearest thing I can find published before 2002 is this study in JAMA from 1991 which found that 81.7% of US children aged 3 to 5 recognised the McDonalds logo, making it the most recognisable logo to kids of this age after the Disney Channel. 

This probably isn't the study mentioned in the Guardian, but it's fair to say that a majority of 3-5 year olds (but not necessarily 3 year olds) can recognise the golden arches.

So when do children start to know their own name? I can't find any academic references, but it's not the kind of thing any parent needs to Google. It happens in the first year, usually between four and nine months. It is safe to say that approximately 100 per cent of kids know their own name by the time they are four years old.

If any readers can help me out by finding the relevant study (if it exists), please do, but it looks to me like this claim is a load of nonsense. Perhaps it started with the trivial statement that most young children who can't read can recognise images and became mangled over time until it turned into a claim that is obviously untrue.

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