Children and Television Advertising

The following research has sought to understand the influence of television on children over the past twenty years using a variety of social models, from public policy and industry self-regulation, to how children receive and process media messages and the parental responsibility in monitoring what is acceptable for children to view.

As a baseline, our research used a model of children interacting with television. We expounded on this model in an effort to seek current data and information that affects children today. Our group divided this model into the following categories:

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After analyzing this model, we conducted our own research to study current trends and determine whether childrens’ behavior has changed significantly in the past 20 years. Our empirical research includes studies in contemporary advertising techniques, changes in children’s television viewing preferences, and the relationship to childhood development. Each category explains a different element of the process of how children interpret and act upon the medias influence.

The Decision to View Television and Parental Influence

Today, children in the United States watch an average of 3 to 5 hours of television every day, and up to an average of 24 hours of television a week. Did you know that on average, children will see 576 or more commercials each week? Children’s programming devotes up to 12 hours to advertising a week.

Research has demonstrated that the effect of television viewing on children leads to a number of possible problems. Television affects social and emotional behavior, creativity and language skills, and school achievement. There is an organization out there in support of children and parents who are concerned with the way television is being viewed. The name of this organization is CARU, Children’s Advertising Review Unit, and it is an industry supported self-regulatory system of the children’s advertising industry. “CARU works with the industry to ensure that advertising directed to kids is truthful, and above all fair.” (Better Business Bureau) The purpose of CARU is to maintain a balance between controlling the message children receive from advertising, and promoting the important information to children through advertising. Another organization working towards controlling advertising towards children is the “Children’s Television Act of 1990 who limited advertising on children’s programs to 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays.” ( Food advertising makes up the largest category of advertisements directed towards children. Breakfast cereals and fast food restaurants account for over half of all food advertisements aimed at children. In the United States less than one percent of advertisements were for healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables.

There are three advertising methods, which are the most popular with advertisers. The first form of advertising is called premiums and has been around since Dick Tracy decoder rings and Little Orphan Annie stickers, over 50 years. The problem with this form of advertising is that children have difficulty telling the difference between the actual product and the premium, or in other words, the prize. The second popular form of advertising to children is through sweepstakes. Children find this very exciting, and in turn this raises children’s expectations of their chances of winning a prize. Most young children have trouble realizing that not every child wins and so sweepstakes usually require some form of parent involvement. The last form of advertisements that is geared toward children is what we call “Kids Clubs”. For an advertiser to use the word “club” a few requirements need to be met. Interactivity needs to be met which means that a child should perform some kind of an action to join the club, and in return receives a reward, membership to the club. Also continuity needs to be performed, this is an ongoing relationship between the club members either through a newsletter or some other interaction with the members.

Parents can guide their children’s television viewing in many ways. First, parents should set limits to the amount of TV a child should watch in a given day. Because television watching is often habit, 1 to 2 hours a day should be enough. An easy way to accomplish this would be to set a few basic rules, such as no television during meals, or before completing homework. Second, help plan a child’s television viewing with the child. Sit down with a newspaper listing of shows and plan the television schedule for the week. Third, to know what a child is watching on the television means that a parent needs to participate. By watching television with a child and then talking about what was watched will give the parent greater control of what kinds of programs are watched in the home. Monitoring the programs that a child watches is the fourth rule for parents. Encourage children to watch programs about characters that cooperate and care for each other. The fifth rule is to analyze commercials. “Children need help to critically evaluate the validity of the many products advertised on television.” ( The last rule is to express your views. Call your local television station if you are not happy with what is being shown. Stations, networks, and sponsors are all concerned about the effects of television viewing on children, and are willing to listen to parents concerns.

Public Policy and Consumer Protectionism

Children’s advertising is mainly governed by CARU, the Children’s Advertising Review Board, which is part of the Better Business Bureau. The board reviews advertising that is directed towards children in all forms of media and seek change through voluntary and self-regulating cooperation of advertisers. CARU’s seeks to find misleading, inaccurate or inconsistent advertising under the Self Regulatory Guidelines for Children’s Advertising.

The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus was established in 1974 by the National Advertising Review Council (NARC) to promote responsible children’s advertising and to respond to public concerns. Its Board of Directors comprises key executives from the CBBB, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), the American Advertising Federation (AAF) and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). The NARC Board sets policy for CARU’s self-regulatory program, which is administered by the CBBB and is funded directly by members of the children’s advertising industry.

CARU’s Self-Regulatory Guidelines are subjective, going beyond the issues of truthfulness and accuracy to take into account the uniquely impressionable and vulnerability of the child audience. They recognize that the special nature and needs of children require particular care and dedication on the part of advertisers. In 1998, CARU monitored more than 11,700 television commercials, often with the assistance of local BBBs, and reviewed advertisements in print and on the internet. (

To keep the CARU guidelines relevant, the Council’s Children’s Advertising Review Unit and its Business and Academic Advisory Committees regularly review CARU’s Self-Regulatory Guidelines to insure that they remain current in the rapidly evolving children’s market. CARU’s board consists of academic and business leaders and experts in education, communication and child development. In addition, prominent business and industry leaders advise on general issues and guideline revisions.

CARU provides a general advisory service for advertisers and agencies and also is a source of informational material for children, parents and educators. CARU encourages advertisers to develop and promote educational messages to children consistent with the Children’s Television Act of 1990. In addition, CARU publishes a wealth of materials made available to those seeking to be more informed.

There are six basic principles that underlie CARU’s Guidelines for Advertising, directed at children under age 12. They are intended to be illustrative rather than limiting and are:

1. Advertisers should always take into account the level of knowledge, sophistication and maturity of the audience to which their message is primarily directed. Younger children have a limited capacity for evaluating the credibility of information they receive. They also may lack the ability to understand the nature of the information they provide. Advertisers, therefore, have a special responsibility to protect children from their own susceptibilities.

2. Realizing that children are imaginative and that make-believe play constitutes an important part of the growing up process, advertisers should exercise care not to exploit unfairly the imaginative quality of children. Advertising should not stimulate unreasonable expectations of product quality or performance either directly or indirectly.

3. Recognizing that advertising may play an important part in educating the child, advertisers should communicate information in a truthful and accurate manner and in language understandable to young children with full recognition that the child may learn practices from advertising which can affect his or her health and well-being.

4. Advertisers are urged to capitalize on the potential of advertising to influence behavior by developing advertising that, wherever possible, addresses itself to positive and beneficial social behavior, such as friendship, kindness, honesty, justice, generosity and respect for others.

5. Care should be taken to incorporate minority and other groups in advertisements in order to present positive and pro-social roles and role models wherever possible. Social stereotyping and appeals to prejudice should be avoided.

6. Although many influences affect a child’s personal and social development, it remains the prime responsibility of the parents to provide guidance for children. Advertisers should contribute to this parent-child relationship in a constructive manner.

Because children are still developing their minds and knowledge and they are limited in their experiences and skills required to evaluate advertising and thus to make purchasing decisions, CARU assists advertisers in general advisory service and recommendations as well as pre-approving advertisements that meet their guidelines. Care is advocated in regards to product presentations and claims, sales pressure, disclosures and disclaimers, comparative claims, endorsements and promotions by program characters, premiums and sweepstakes and safety.

Self-regulation is a ruling by the National Association of Broadcasters that lessens the need for advertising agencies to comply with statutory regulations and other issues dealing with state and federal laws. Large organizations such as the Federal Trade Commission, and the Federal Communications Commission exercise certain power to control and regulate some content, which is broadcast over television media. The self-regulation ruling protects broadcasters from the controls and constraints of the FTC and FCC guidelines.

The Federal Trade Commission was established in 1914 as an independent U.S. agency. The purpose is to keep business competition free and fair, prevent the distribution of false and/ or deceptive advertising, and to enforce antitrust laws. The FTC defines deceptive advertising as a misrepresentation, omission or practice that is likely to mislead. The FTC also regulates the labeling and packaging of commodities, and gathers information concerning a companies business decisions. All of this information is made available to the public. The FTC may require corporations to submit information about their business practices if they feel there is evidence of unlawful activity. In addition, the FTC is empowered to issue cease and desist orders to take violators to court.

The Federal Communications Commission was created in 1934. The FCC exercises the power of licensing and license renewal for radio and television stations. It has the power to revoke or issue fines to a broadcast licensee for violating its regulations. These measures can be invoked when a licensee has aired obscene or indecent language, revealed confidential lottery information, or obtained money under false pretenses. The FCC is not allowed to censor material or enforce regulations that interfere with freedom of expression. The subject matter of the programming is up to the discretion of the individual broadcast station.

Because the FTC and FCC guidelines are broad and subject to interpretation, it is difficult to define what is considered obscene, what is age appropriate for children to view, and what subject matter is acceptable. The FCC does have some provisions for licensees concerning children’s television programming. Every commercial and non-commercial educational television licensee is obligated to foster the educational and informational needs of children 16 years and under. The programs must serve a specific purpose and must be aired regularly between 7:00 am and 10:00 pm, and must be at least 30 minutes long. Licensees must identify programs specifically designed to educate and inform children at the beginning of the program, and it must classify such programs to publishers of program guides. In addition, television programs aimed at children 12 and under cannot advertise commercials for more that 10.5 minutes an hour on weekends and 12 minutes on weekdays.

Television is one of the most encompassing and persuasive forms of media available to children today. The subject of children’s programming is highly controversial and at the forefront of American politics today. It is important for advertisers and advertising agencies to have a certain amount of autonomy and self-regulation. It is in the publics’ interest for advertisers to protect themselves through self-regulation from the restrictions and costly lawsuits that can deny freedom of speech and expression.

Obviously, a majority of the television advertising to children is in the product category of toys and food. The ads attempt to provoke children to request that their parents purchase the advertised brand. In order to stimulate this type of reaction, advertisers must appeal to certain needs. The table below shows the results of a 1985 study of the needs appealed to in television ads during children’s programming.

When appealing to these needs it is important for advertisers not to deceive children with their advertisements. There are five ways in which advertisements may deceive their young audience (McNeal 1987):

1.They may use celebrity presenters, which can exploit children’s trust in authority figures (McNeal 1987).

Celebrity endorsements which are common in many advertisements today, could be a bit too effective if the brand associated with the celebrity or role model does not hold enough merit on its own. Children might be swayed to ask their parents to purchase products because their favorite athlete, cartoon character, or actor “uses” the product, not because the product would improve the quality of their life in any way.

2.They may present products such as candy bars, toys, and hamburgers, without reference to a scale which may exploit children’s limited perception skills (McNeal 1987).

It is unfair to coerce children to make unhealthy choices because they lack the necessary cognition to know any better. That should go without saying however, the bottom line is the bottom line, and advertisers are in the business to sell their products.

3.They may focus on premiums rather than on the product, which may cause children to use wrong standards for assessing the product (McNeal 1987).

Anything that adds false merit to a product should be eliminated from advertising to children. This is an unfair advantage advertisers have over there young audience because they can project an image of a particular brand without providing any support for that image other than the superficial benefits of the product.

4.They may use adult terminology and contrived terms, which take advantage of children’s limited knowledge (McNeal 1987).

Sometimes adults don’t understand “adult terminology.” It is unfair to children for advertisers to use language that might prevent them from making correct judgements about advertised brands.

5.They may make excessive use of emotional terms and/or intense sounds or colors, which may exploit children’s gullibility (McNeal 1987).

Sensory overload is rightfully off limits because children are emotional enough and don’t need the extra help from television advertisements.

Advertisers attempt to cover up any possibly misleading message with disclaimers (McNeal 1987). Disclaimers such as “some assembly required,” “batteries not included,” or “accessories sold separately,” serve as the prerequisite for a moral, non-deceptive message. Research has shown that “these disclaimers do not have their intended result,” (McNeal 1987), and that “this incorrect impression may be passed on to parents” (McNeal 1987). This shows that children not understanding disclaimers can lead to frustration in parents and a very unsatisfied customer. The ad was successful in that it provoked a sale of the product, yet no brand loyalty would be built between those frustrated parents and the company selling the product.

One area under dispute is that children cannot distinguish between children’s programming and advertisements. Separators like “after these messages, we’ll be right back,” forecast to children that commercials are coming. Separators are also under criticism because they are not specific enough for children to understand. A study by Stutts, Vance, and Huddleson in 1981 showed that “seven year olds more quickly recognized commercial material when ‘The Bugs Bunny Show will be right back after these messages’ was changed to ‘Hey Kids. The next thing you will see will be a commercial and not part of the program you’ve been watching’” (McNeal 1987). It seems that if advertisers were more specific with respect to disclaimers and separators, they would be attacked less for their unethical practices when advertising to children.

For children to begin processing the message, they must pay attention to the message. Children’s attention to the advertisements is affected by both personal and stimulus factors (McNeal 1987). The following table summarizes these types of factors.

Factors That Affect Children’s Attention to Television Advertisements Level of motivationThe child may desire to watch commercials, or certain commercials, for information or entertainment value. Attitudes toward commercialsChildren have developed negative feelings towards ads because the ads interrupt programming or because they are perceived as Influence of parents and peersParents and peers  can distract children from commercials because of conversation that may begin at commercial time or because of warnings about commercial content.

Lack of knowledge about commercialsChildren’s attention may remain constant as programming changes to commercials because the youngsters do not know the difference between the two. Programming natureAttention to commercials may vary because programs are boring or interesting; for example, boring programs may invite attention Commercial contentAdvertisers use a variety of practices to get and keep children’s attention: music, singing, jingles, sound effects, animation, celebrities, and well-known characters. Some are more effective

Product advertisedCertainly the involvement children have with the products in commercials will influence their attention to the ads, for example, attention might be expected to vary depending on whether the products advertised are for children or adults. Public service announcementsBecause public service announcements are different fromcommercial announcements (they may even be contrary to them), children may give them special attention. These factors represent a challenge facing advertisers today. Advertisers know that they cannot control most of these factors. However, they know that if a child does not pay attention to an ad, that child can have no cognition or display the desired purchase behavior. It is critically important that ads grab the attention of their young audience or they will be completely ineffective.

Cognitive Analysis of Children’s Behavior in Regards to Consumer Advertising. Cognition is the mental faculty or process by which knowledge is acquired. It is knowledge gained as through perception, reasoning, or intuition. (Webster’s II, 1984)

It is important to understand that there are many differences between children and adults who watch T.V. Children are different not only in the values and standards they bring, but also in the years of experience they have behind them, the physiological bases of their needs, and their abilities. I hope to clear up the reasons behind all of these differences and will start with a child’s basic cognitive process and then move into more specific situations.

We want to start out by discussing Jean Piaget’s cognitive development theory, but first here is a definition of cognitive theory. It is concerned with central organizing processes in higher animals, and it recognizes a partial autonomy of these processes, such that the animal becomes an actor upon, rather than simply a reactor to its environment. (Phillips, Jr. John L.,1969)

The cognitive approach is concerned more with structure rather than content with how the mind works. Cognitive development probably begins before birth according to many psychologists. Piaget has come up with four separate stages of cognitive development humans go through from birth do adulthood. The concept of cognitive states has several implications for how children perceive and think. First, stages imply distinct, qualitative differences in children’s modes of thinking or problem solving at different stages. Second, stages of thought form an invariant sequence in individual development, so although environmental factors may alter the rate of growth, they do not change the sequence. Third, thinking typical of his stage in numerous situations that may differ widely. Fourth, cognitive stages are hierarchical and integrative: higher stages become increasingly differentiated and at the same time integrate lower stages at a new level of organization; in short, one stage “melds” into another. (Wackman, Daniel B.1977)

The four stages Piaget came up with were the sensorimotor stage (0-2 years old) where the infant’s behavior is not at all mediated by thought, as we know it, but rather by set behavior patterns. I have included a chart to help explain the period, but will end discussion here on this period as I will focus mainly on the next period, the Preoperational period, (2-7 years old). The final two stages are concrete operational (7-11 years old) and Formal Operations (11-15). (Phillips,Jr. John L.,1969)

In the preoperational period the child is developing symbolic abilities (such as language and mental imagery), but his behavior is still very closely linked to perception. Piaget characterizes the mental processes of this stage as a “mental experiment” in which the child’s thought is a replication in mental imagery of various stimuli, which often bear no logical relation to each other. (Phillips,Jr. John L.,1969)

In advancing from the sensiomotor stage to the preoperational there is a key difference to notice. A sensiomotor child can seldom utilize any but concrete signals, whereas the Preoperational child can make an internal response or a mediating process that represents an absent object or event.

Increasing internalization of representational actions and increasing differentiation of signifiers from significant mark this period. (Phillips,Jr. John L.,1969)

Intelligence can be defined as the organization of adaptive behavior; this changes in the Preoperational period. (Phillips,Jr. John L.,1969) A Preoperational child can reflect upon his own behavior as it relates to the goal rather than just on the goal itself.

Preoperational has access to a comprehensive representation of reality that can include past, present, and future and can occur in an exceedingly short period of time.

The eventual results of this extension in scope and shift of interest from action to explanation is the development of a system of codified symbols that can be manipulated and communicated to the other.

In this period there is accommodation and assimilation. Accommodation involves signifiers, which are events that have been internalized and intimidated. In assimilation the signifiers acquires meaning when it is assimilated to the schemes that represent the signified event. (Phillips,Jr. John L.,1969)

When imitations become internalized Piaget calls them “images” and these are the first signifiers. Words serve as signifiers and their meanings are similarly determined. (Phillips,Jr. John L.,1969) An example of this is how a girl sees a car or glass on T.V. She takes a shell and calls it a cup as she assimilates the glass she saw and begins to drink from the shell. Or she takes a box and drives it around as if it were a car, same idea.

There are six basic limitations that separate the child from an adult; concreteness, irreversibility, egocentrism, centering, states vs. transformations, and transductive reasoning. Instead of the adult pattern of analyzing and synthesizing, the child simply runs through the symbols for events as though he were actually participating in the events themselves. (Phillips,Jr. John L.,1969)

Where a child’s thoughts cannot reverse itself back to the point of origin. An example of this is a child sees two clay balls of equal size. When asked if they are the same the child responds yes. Now, when one of the balls is molded to look like a hot dog in front of the child he is asked the same question and says no they aren’t the same size. The reason is the child can’t see that since nothing has been added or removed that it could be made back into original ball. He can’t see that every change in height is compensated by a change in width. This is the inability to take another person’s point of view.

This is a child’s tendency to center his attention on one detail of an event and his inability to process information from other aspects of the situation. When two glasses are placed in front of a child one tall and one fat with equal amounts of water the child will think that they are not equal. The reason is that the child only looks at the height not the width so they decenter and answer incorrectly. (Phillips,Jr. John L.,1969)

This is where a child focuses on the successive states of a display rather than on the transformations by which one state is changed into another. An example is where water is passed from one container to another. An adult sees this as one movie, but a child sees this as a series of pictures. When a child is asked to draw in sequence of events a board dropping, they can’t do it. It should look like this:

They are unable to integrate a series of states or conditions into a coherent whole namely, a transformation. (Phillips,Jr. John L.,1969)

This is where a child proceeds from particular to particular instead of general to specific or specific to general. An example is A causes B is not different from B causes A. (Phillips,Jr. John L.,1969) “Daddy’s shave requires hot water,” is not different from “hot water requires daddy’s shave.”

It is evident that the CTS (Children’s Television Standards) recognize the stages of children’s development. This is apparent, as they require special consideration in areas such as advertising and the presentation of material that may be harmful. (WEB. Program content advertising to children on TV)

The next stage of Piaget’s theory is called the Concrete Operations Period (7-11). The child developing conceptual skills, which enable him to mediate perceptual activity, but only when dealing with concrete objects, marks the change.

Another idea is of consumer socialization which is best understood as a child’s developing ability to select, evaluate, and use information relevant to purchasing (information processing). Children ignore some messages and accept others. They search for it select it and interpret their selection are all ideas of this concept. REFER to Chart. . (Wackman, Daniel B.1977)

Wohlwill argues that the most important aspect of cognitive growth is the child’s increasing ability to organize his conceptual skills to mediate incoming stimuli rather than to simply respond to what he perceives. They use the term perceptual boundness (the tendency to focus on and respond primarily to perceptual aspects of the environment) to refer to this dimension of growth.

Younger preoperational children tend to be perceptually bound in their interactions with the environment. However, older kids in the concrete operational stage (7-11) don’t simply accept what is perceived is reality, but can mentally manipulate perceived elements.

For Piaget development is the result of four factors: Maturation of the physical abilities of the child; the child’s own experience with objects in the world; social transmission, such as parents talking with the child, and equilibration, the child’s self-regulatory processes. (Lyle, Jack, 1961)

It is important to note that in the beginning that most kids don’t go to the T.V. to learn, it is incidental. This just means that when a viewer goes to a T.V. for entertainment and stores up facts by accident it is incidental. In a study done this idea was proved when kids where asked, “What T.V. shows do you watch?” The response was that out of 111 programs only four where informational that kids watched when asked. (Jack Lyle, 1961)

Incidental learning depends on a kid’s ability to learn, his needs at the moment, and what he pays attention to. An important thing to note is that kids are more willing to learn something when it is new to them as long as it is not too unfamiliar. Another point is that kids are more likely to learn or act on ideas if they think that they will work. (Jack Lyle, 1961) For example if a fictional character can’t get away with it then there is good reason not to try it. A man by the name of Zajonc tried an experiment once to prove this idea. He made a comic book in which a character commits a violent act and gets away with it and one in which the character gets punished. In that experiment the children that read the first comic where the hero gets away with the act approved despite the morals they previously had. (Jack Lyle, 1961)

Perception of the intent of Commercials

The last thing we want to talk about is how children perceive commercials. In a study by Ward and Wackman (1973) 5-12 year olds were questioned about the purpose of commercials. Nearly one-half (47%) of the children verbalized low levels of understanding of the selling of motives of commercials. It was realized by Robertson and Rossiter (1974) that the ability to recognize the persuasive intent of commercials would depend in part upon the child’s prior cognitive distinctions:

1) Discrimination between programming and commercials;

2) Recognition of an external source (a sponsor);

3) Perception of an intended audience as the target of the advertiser’s message;

4) Awareness of the symbolic, as opposed to the realistic, nature of commercials and 5) Recall of personal experiences in which discrepancies had been discovered between products as advertised and products in actuality. (Adler, Richard P-1980)

We include all these ideas in order to show how tough it is for advertisers to get their messages across to kids. The Commercials have to have so many different criteria and the children still have to be there at the right moment, be in the correct mood and understand everything that is being told to them. Maybe this is why commercials are shown over and over and over again.

An analysis as to how children develop behaviors that emanate from television advertising is an enormous field to research. The focus of this analysis will be limited to children’s requests to parents, purchases, and how they relate to television advertisements. Children develop a sense of what they should eat in two ways. First of all, parents instill their eating habits on their children when they make dinner, snacks, etc. Secondly, children are influenced by commercials they see and store this in their memory that comes to light when they go shopping with their parents. To give an example as to how prominent a role children play in buying food at the grocery store, a study by Galst and White (1976) stated that children averaged a purchase-influence attempt every two minutes while shopping with parents (McNeal 1987).

The research further indicates that the level of purchase attempts increases when children watch more television. This bit of information is of particular importance for cereal and food manufacturers that market their products on television. In many cases, television advertising is the primary source of information about products such as cereal and toys for children. It is often noted throughout research on purchase requests to parents by children that the younger the child, the more requests are made. The number of requests tends to decrease as the child gets older. When children were questioned about how often they ask their parents to buy them something after seeing it on television, children considered heavy viewers asked 40% of the time compared to 16% of the time for light viewers (Adler p. 141). Further evidence as to how strongly children influence purchase decisions for advertised goods on their parents came about in a study of 1053 six to fourteen year old children and 591 of their mothers. The two groups were question on 20 product categories including cereal, cookies, drinks, etc. In the end, 75% of the mothers who purchased these products said they were influenced by their children in brand and product selection (Adler p. 103).

Parents with higher levels of education seem to be less influenced by purchase requests by their children. A study by Rossiter (1979) concluded that television advertising has the greatest effects on the youngest children in families with parents of low education and most likely low income (McNeal 1987). The results of this combination can lead to significant conflict between the parent and child.

The buying power of children today is a segment that advertisers are well aware of. Children and teens receive money from jobs, allowances, and birthdays that enables them to purchase items they would have previously relied on their parents to buy. According to Wells (1965), children act as consumers in several ways; by making personal purchases with their own money, by asking their parents at home, by making requests at the store, and by parents buying items they know their children are willing to consume (Adler 139). It has been said that one-third of major retailers are aware of children’s income and wish to capitalize on this potential market. In a very interesting study by the Kroger foundation, children were allowed to shop at the supermarket as if they were adults. It turns out that the children actively searched out specific items they had seen on television and that “most of the children selected cereal” they have seen advertised on television (McNeal 1987).

Research indicates that children’s wants and desires can be significantly influenced by what they see on television. In an experiment by Goldberg, Gorn, and Gibson (1977), two groups of children were subjected to two different sets of television programs. The first program Fat Albert, stressed the importance of good nutrition and eating well. The second group of youngsters watched Yogi Bear cartoons that had several commercials for junk food. Once the programs were viewed, the children were allowed to select three snacks from the following: a banana, peanuts, raisins, Mounds candy bar, jellybeans, and Lollipop Lifesavers. The research showed that the children subjected to the more healthy commercials picked significantly more nutritious items than did the other group (McNeal 1987). Research like this is of particular importance to advertisers who market more health conscious food. Not only does the research show that children know what they should eat, but when exposed to marketing efforts, a significant portion will pick health conscious food over junk food.

Our group chose to collect data that could prove the Model of Children Interacting with Television to be true of children today. We found a study done in 1975 that showed the percentage of children who requested their parents buy toys and cereal for them as a result of being exposed to television advertising. This study summarized the behavior box of the model. The results of the 1975 study are summarized in the table below.

Many of the TV commercials are for toys – things like dolls and racing cars. After you see these toys on TV, how much do you ask your mother to buy them for you? After you see commercials for breakfast cereals on TV, how much do you ask your mother to buy the cereal for you? Our group will attempt to prove that the behavior of children exposed to television advertisements in 1975 would match the behavior of children today.

Our group chose to survey children at The Airport Club, Albertson’s at Bicentennial Way in Santa Rosa, and KayBee Toys at The Santa Rosa Plaza. We asked each child three questions. The first question was, “How many hours of TV do you watch each day?” The second question was, “Many of the TV commercials you watch are for toys. After seeing these commercials on TV, how much do you ask your mother to buy them for you, A Lot, Sometimes, or Never?” The third question was, “After you see commercials for breakfast cereals on TV, how much do you ask your mother to buy the cereal for you, A Lot, Sometimes, or Never?”

We compiled the data concurrent with the way in which the data from the 1975 study was compiled. We grouped the children who watched three or more hours of TV per day as heavy viewers, and grouped children who watched two or fewer hours of TV per day as light viewers. A table of our empirical evidence is shown below.

Advertising-Initiated Requests — Year 2000! Many of the TV commercials are for toys – things like dolls and racing cars. After you see these toys on TV, how much do you ask your mother to buy them for you? After you see commercials for breakfast cereals on TV, how much do you ask your mother to buy the cereal for you?

The data we collected seemed to follow a completely different trend than the data collected in 1975. In 1975 the trend seemed to be that children would at least sometimes ask their parents to purchase the advertised products on TV with the number of children exhibiting that behavior increasing with the amount of television they watched. Our survey showed that children today often do not ask their parents to purchase products that they see advertised on TV. There is a similar trend in that heavy viewers of television today do tend to ask their parents more, but the collected data presents some evidence to reject our hypothesis.

Our sample size was not nearly as large as the study done in 1975. However, a larger sample size may not be enough to change some of our statistics. There was a huge difference in the behavior of light television viewers today and the behavior of light viewers studied in 1975. Since there was such a discrepancy, a few children who responded that they never asked their parents to purchase the advertised products, were asked why? Common responses were “Mommy just buys our cereal for us,” or “Daddy gets mad when we ask for toys because he says that commercials lie.” This leads to an interesting discussion that parents might be having more of an effect on their children’s behavior than in the past. Or that maybe their parents have a higher level of distrust in television advertising than their parent’s generation. These are interesting ideas that could also be researched.

The final conclusion is that our hypothesis will be rejected. The results may not be statistically significant for publication in a journal, however for our intents and purposes the data collected was sufficient to base a conclusion on. Children’s behavior today upon exposure to television advertisements does not match the behavior of children studied in 1975.

The industry of children’s advertising is an extremely complex field of research. The task for marketers knowing all the laws and regulations in this industry is a chore that is becoming increasingly difficult in modern times. The ability of marketers to make commercials for their products, especially those aimed at children is essential in the survival of consumer goods in our capitalist society. Our research has shown that a majority of adults and organizations feel that advertisers manipulate the law as well as their children in how they market their products, especially in the field of breakfast cereal. Critics have charged that advertisers use celebrities, toys, games, etc. to sell their product without any effort in communicating the nutritional value of their cereal.

The fact remains that the majority of cereal manufactures that use these types of marketing campaigns are for cereal that would not be considered of high nutrition. What has to be remembered is that these huge corporations are here to make money for their shareholders as well as their employees and if they wish to remain a leader in the children’s cereal product category, then they have to use these forms of advertising to compete with other corporations. What is obvious from our research is that the behaviors of children can be influenced by television commercials. Although we had to reject our own hypothesis that the behavior of children exposed to television advertisements in 1975 would match the behavior of children today it is still clear that advertisers can influence purchase decisions and behaviors of children. Our research has unveiled that kids do look for brands in the store while shopping and that is largely due to the fact that the physiological effects of television as well as the creativity of marketers is reaching their target markets and doing a very good job of turning children into consumers.


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Children and Television Advertising. (2018, Jul 06). Retrieved from