Advertising to Children

Term Paper, 2002

30 Pages, Grade: 1,3 (A)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Consumer Socialization
2.1. Definition
2.2. Socialization Agents
2.3. Learning Contents of Consumer Socialization
2.4. Stages of Consumer Socialization

3. SCepticism towards Advertisements
3.1. Definition
3.2. Development of Scepticism

4. Television Advertising
4.1. Distinguishing Commercials from Program
4.2. Understanding Advertising Intent
4.3. Influence of Advertising on Children’s Brand Perceptions
4.4. Protection of Children and their Values

5. Advertising of Food
5.1. Quantity and Nutritional Value
5.2. Effects and Measures
5.3. Executing Techniques

6. ALTERNATIVE Marketing Activities aimed at Children
6.1. Internet
6.2. Kid’s Clubs
6.3. Educational Materials


8. References


Children are an important target group for advertising campaigns. Children influence their parents enormously in their purchases. Furthermore children are the “consumers of tomorrow”, so companies have to create awareness of their products and create preferences as well as brand loyalty in the very early stages of children’s consumerism.

Mark Ritson of the London Business School says, “The real key, the Holy Grail, is getting kids to pester parents to buy something for the whole family such as a car or holiday.”[1] Moreover, children’s attitude towards brands, products and consumerism in general is strongly influenced by advertising.

The increasing importance of all marketing communications to children within the overall marketing picture can be put in better perspective as one look at some figures. Children aged two to 14 directly influence parental purchases more and more: In the 1960s children’s influence was about $5 billion, by 1950 the figure was about $50 billion and by 2002 it may have peaked around $188 billion (Zoll, 2000). These astonishing figures illustrate very well why there is an increasing concern at ad campaigns that are targeting children. The budget spent thereon gets as well more and more important: two billion dollars is roughly spent on advertising to young consumers in America, alone ( and in the European Union, revenues to television networks and producers have reached between $620 and $930 million (Pascaline, n.d.).

The importance for advertisers and marketers is to understand how children are influenced in their attitudes towards advertising and their consumer behaviour in general. For that reason it is essential to analyse and to know the process and its different stages of consumer socialization, as well as the development of scepticism towards advertising. But advertising to children is also fraught with ethical concerns, due to the limited ability of children to process information, so there are several measures taken in order to protect children’s values.

This paper will discuss this topic as broad and as specific as possible with a focus on television advertising and especially on food advertisements before concluding with remarks to future research directions.

2. Consumer Socialization

2.1. Definition

Consumer Socialization means the process by which young people acquire skills, knowledge and attitudes relevant to their functioning as consumers in the marketplace (Ward, 1974). This is a lifelong process, which begins with birth and is normally concluded at the age of 18. This learning takes place within the context of background factors such as social classes, religion and socio-economic status’. The question that are crucial to marketers and researchers are what behaviors children learn, by whose influence they learn these behaviors and how those behaviors are associated with the purchase and use of goods and services.

2.2. Socialization Agents

The process of Consumer Socialization is influenced by different factors. All these factors have a different but an important influence on children’s socialization process and may enhance children’s learning of marketplace knowledge. The most important groups are referred to as socialization agents (Witt, 1995).

The family

The family has always been the most influencing institution of children. The child’s contact with family members is not only the most frequent than with other individuals, it is also firmer, warmer and more emotional. Socialization, and hence consumer socialization especially, begins at home, where children learn who they are, what their capabilities are and what they can expect from the community. They learn behaviors and attitudes that have implications for their consumers’ behavior later in life.

The family communication environment is conceptualized as having two orthogonal dimensions: socio-oriented and concept-oriented. (Macklin & Les Carlson, 1999). The socio-oriented communication focus on creating and maintaining harmonious relations in the family and promoting deference to authority, thereby leading parents to control and monitor children’s consumption activities. Concept-oriented communication centers on encouraging children to develop their own views of the world and to consider alternative points of view, thereby fostering “development of children’s own skills and competence as consumers” (Carlson, 1992).

Basically, consumer socialization seems to occur in subtle ways – families usually do not “teach” a child how to be a consumer. They do not prepare lessons or lectures to be memorized. Instead, there are four primary ways in which family influences are transmitted (Wilke, 1986):

- The parents act as models for the child on numerous consumption occasions. Here, the child learns through observation, usually silently, and without the parents’ conscious awareness or intention to teach.
- Parent-child discussions also occur about consumer activities. These often involve either requests from children or explanations from parents about particular products or brands. Other socializing influences such as TV ads and friends from school often stimulate these family discussions.
- Child-child interactions can also be important socializing influences within a family, when there is more than one child present. These influences can be especially important for younger children as they learn from and emulate their older siblings.
- The child begins to handle money as he or she becomes older. Thus, through gifts and “allowances”, the family provides opportunities for a child to begin to make personal purchases and become more experienced as a consumer.

Preprimary school and daycare

Children spent an average of 900 hours annually in school; this is thus the second most important socialization agent of children. During this time they do not only learn English, Mathematics or History, but also which skills and attitudes are acceptable in society. In contrast to the social roles learnt at home, those that the child learns in preprimary school focus on the broader community.

The peer group

Research suggests that frequency of communication with peers is related positively to adolescents’ attitude toward advertising (Moschis 1978).

In the peer group the child learns to dominate, to protect, to accept responsibility, to respect the views of others and to be realistic about his own skills and other personal attributes (Perry, 1984). That means that children are creating the willingness to conform to the expectations of others regarding purchase decisions and the tendency to learn about products and brands by observing others. Peers are important reference sources for children in selecting products or creating wishes of certain products because children want to dress, behave and do the same things that their friends are doing, as they do not have a very developed individuality yet. The influence of peer groups tends to increase with age, the older children get, the more they become peer oriented (Suess et al., 1998).

The mass media

In western information societies, the media play a central role in everyday life and their importance is still increasing. Children acquire a significant part of their knowledge of the world through the media.

Media and peer groups are closely connected to each other. Media-related interest can play an important role while choosing a peer group, or vice versa, the peer group can determine the choice of the media. Media also provides themes of conversations for children and media-related toys are part of children’s cultural environment (Suess et al. 1998).

The most important instrument concerning mass media for children is the television. On the one hand, it may be detrimental to children who are too heavily exposed to it, but on the other hand, it has infinite potential to make positive contribution to the community. Television gives children a great deal of information about both real and imaginary worlds and about human behavior. But children are not adults and can easily misinterpret what they see and hear. For example, real Barbie dolls – unlike the Barbie in a TV spot – cannot move or drive cars or go hoarse riding on their own. But as children spent a lot of time in front of the television set, they are seeing loads of advertisements. The more ads children see, the more likely they may be able to recognize differences among its truthfulness. Here a great responsibility lies on the parents, because on the one hand what children see on television may conflict with values that their parents or teachers have tried to convey. On the other hand, parents’ task is it to guide their children to value advertising in the right way.

2.3. Learning Contents of Consumer Socialization

During the average time of 18 years that children are living together with their families, it is obvious, that they have an enormous impact on children’s learning about consumer behavior. This learning falls into two basic categories (Hawkins, Best & Coney, 2001):

- Directly relevant consumer knowledge and skills. These are basic skills that are necessary to carry out actual consumer behaviors. The ability to count, to budget money, and to understand prices or contracts are all examples of direct consumer skills required in today’s world. Families do not transmit all this information to their children, but do account for much of it. A child rose in a family with good consumer planning, budgeting, and buying skills is much more likely to possess those same strengths than is a child from a family having consumer skill deficiencies. The family, then, is important in providing the basic “rational” aspects of consumption behavior.

- Second-order consumer skills. These are not direct skills in actually performing shopping or purchase functions, but are indirect skills related to the social sphere within which consumption is undertaken. For example, what is “good taste”? What types of clothes are appropriate for which occasion? Which stores are to be patronized and which types should be avoided? In all these cases, there is something beyond the objective product or service that is being taken into consideration. How do we learn about this social element of consumption? During childhood, consumers develop awareness of these social dimensions and begin to learn how to cope with them. The family starts out to be very important. As the child begins to interact more outside home, at school, and with friends and media, the family gradually loses its significance as a strong influence source in this area.

2.4. Stages of Consumer Socialization

As children mature into adult consumers they are going through a series of stages during their consumer socialization process (Roedder, 1999). These stages are characterized along a number of dimensions that capture important shifts in knowledge development, decision-making skills, and purchase influence strategies. The main differences of these stages are general shifts from simple to complex features, perceptions and thinking of children. The indicated age ranges are approximations, based on the general tendencies of children in those age groups.

The perceptual stage includes children aged from three to seven and is characterized by a general orientation towards the immediate and readily observable perceptual features of the marketplace. Children’s consumer knowledge is usually based on a simple dimension such as size or colour and on very limited information and is represented in terms of concrete details from their own observations. They have an egocentric perspective, unable to take into account the other person’s perspective - of parents for example – in order to negotiate for desired objects. Although they may be aware that parents or friends have other views, children at this age have difficulty thinking about their own perspective and that of another person simultaneously.

The analytical stage consists of children from seven to eleven. This period contains some of the most important developments in terms of consumer knowledge and skills. The main changes are dramatic increases in information processing abilities, which results in a more sophisticated understanding of the marketplace, a more complex set of knowledge about concepts such as advertising and brands, and having a new perspective that goes beyond their own feelings and motives. Reasoning precedes a more abstract level, setting the stage for knowledge structures that include information about abstract concepts such as advertisers’ motives.

The reflective stage contains children from eleven to 16 and changes that happen during this period are more a matter of degree than of kind. Knowledge about marketplace concepts such as branding and pricing becomes even more nuanced and more complex as children develop more sophisticated information processing and social skills. More distinct is the shift in orientation to a more reflective way of thinking and reasoning as children become more focused on the social meanings and underpinnings of the consumer marketplace. Results are paying more attention to the social aspects of being a consumer, making choices, and consuming brands. Consumer decisions are made in a more adaptive manner, depending on the situation and task. Attempts to influence parents and friends reflect more social awareness as adolescents become more strategic, favoring strategies that they think will be better received than a simple direct approach.

There are several other approaches of dividing the development of consumer socialization into logic stages; another popular might be the Piaget’s stages of cognitive development. However, the pattern of less ability to deal with abstract, generalized, unfamiliar and/or large amounts of information by younger children is common to all approaches. These theories and researches that support them are the basis for most regulation of advertising aimed at children, and, according to critics, for some marketing program that deliberately exploit children.

3. SCepticism towards advertisements

3.1. Definition

Skepticism is defined as the consumers’ negatively valued attitude toward the motives of and claims made by advertisers. It also means not believing something unless there is proof obtained from reasonable sources. Skepticism implies that consumers recognize that advertisers have specific motives, such as persuading consumers, and therefore that advertisers’ communications may be biased and varied in their truthfulness (Boush et al., 1994). Hence, skepticism is a critical approach to evaluating and coping with advertising messages and therefore is an important skill for consumers to acquire.

3.2. Development of Scepticism

As they mature, children make a transition from viewers who see advertising as purely informative, entertaining and trustworthy to ones who view advertising in a more skeptical, analytical and discerning fashion.

Traditionally, it has been assumed, that once children understand the persuasive purpose of advertising they become more skeptical and are then capable of resisting its appeal (FTC, 1978).

Scepticism towards advertisements develops usually about the age of eight. The knowledge and skepticism about advertising that is typical for children eight years of age or older is often viewed as a cognitive defense against advertising. Advertising is thus implicitly accorded substantial power to shape children’s thinking until they acquire sufficient cognitive and attitudinal defenses. Having gained knowledge about advertising’s persuasive intent and scepticism about the truthfulness of advertising claims, children of this age and above are often viewed as having the abilities to respond to advertising in a mature and informed manner. Younger children - under eight years - without these cognitive defenses are seen as an at-risk population for being easily misled by advertising (Roedder, 1999).

Parental socialization tendencies, or the family communication environment, may be especially important in fostering the development and learning of such attitudes. In addition, children’s scepticism toward advertising may be related to their susceptibility to being influenced by peers (Boush et al., 1994). The amount of children’s television exposure also may be related to the development of sceptical attitudes toward advertising, in part, because a greater degree of exposure may give them more experience by which to judge ads. Finally, specific aspects of interaction with the three most important socialization agents – parents, peers, and television – may enhance children’s’ marketplace knowledge (Macklin, 1999).

But although children develop quite automatically scepticism, general advertising knowledge and beliefs are not sufficient defenses. Children need more than just a sceptical or critical attitude toward advertising. They also need a more detailed knowledge about the nature of advertising and how it works (Brucks et al., 1998).

4. Television Advertising

Children between the ages of two and 17 watch an annual average of 1500 hours of television, compared with 900 hours spent per year in school. Watching TV is the number one after-school activity for six to 17 year olds. Children see at least an hour of commercials for every five hours of programs they watch on commercial TV. The average child sees more than 20,000 commercials each year. That means by age 21, the average viewer will have seen one million TV commercials (Center for Media Education, 1997).

Considering these figures it becomes obvious that especially TV ads have a considerable influence on children’s perception of products, brands and their consumption behaviour.

4.1. Distinguishing Commercials from Programs

Children have to be able to differentiate commercials from normal programs. But as they do not recognize commercials automatically, they have to learn distinguishing the one from the other.

As children move into the preschool years, but normally latest at the age of five, they learn to identify television commercials and to distinguish them from other forms of programming.

A study by Elliot Butter (1981) illustrates interesting findings in this area. Preschool children, aged four and five years, were shown videotapes of the Captain Kangaroo program, edited to include four 30-second commercials between program segments, consisting, for example of a voice saying that, “The Captain will return after this message.” Separators are commonly employed in television programming aimed at children, especially during Saturday morning cartoons and shows such as Captain Kangaroo. While viewing the tape, children were instructed to tell the experimenter “when a commercial comes on.” Children were also asked at approximately ten to 15 seconds into each program segment, “Is this part of the ‘Captain Kangaroo’ show?” In addition to these direct assessments, children were also asked open-ended questions, such as, “Why do they put commercials on television?” and “What is the difference between a commercial and the ‘Captain Kangaroo’ show?”

Using this methodology, Butter reported that 70% of the four-year-olds and 90% of the five-year-olds identified all four commercials. Older children identified significantly more commercials, yet even four-year-olds were able to distinguish commercials from programs at an above-chance level.


[1] See Hawkins, Best & Coney (2001). Consumer Behaviour – Building Marketing Strategy. New York: McGraw Hill. 732

Excerpt out of 30 pages


Advertising to Children
Stellenbosch Universitiy  (Faculty of Industrial Psychology)
Consumer Psychology
1,3 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
541 KB
advertising, Werbung, children, Kinder, consumer behaviour, Kosumentenverhalten, television, Fernsehen, consumer socialization, commercials
Quote paper
Franziska Pfund (Author), 2002, Advertising to Children, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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