The Effects Of Television Advertising On Children

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The Effects of Television Advertising on Children


Despite many years of academic research, there continues to be no consensus on the way in which advertising influences children and adolescents. Some authors argue that children are critical consumers who are well capable of defending themselves against the possible negative effects of advertising. They believe that advertising provides children with valuable product information, which supports them in their development as consumers. Many others, however, believe that advertising aimed at children has a strong impact on their beliefs, values, and moral norms. They argue that children are more vulnerable than adults to the persuasive influences of commercials because they still lack the cognitive skills to defend themselves against the attractive and cleverly put advertising messages (see Buijzen & Valkenburg, 2003, for a review). This paper will discuss each type of advertising effect and provide an insight into the current state of the empirical research on these effects.


Studies into the impact of advertising on children typically focus on three kinds of effects: cognitive, affective, and behavioral. Following lines discuss the impacts of each.

Cognitive-Effects Studies

It has been shown, for example, that from 7 years onward, children are progressively more able to distinguish commercials from television programs and show a better understanding of the persuasive intent of commercials (Wartella & Ettema, 1974).

A second subtype of cognitive-effects studies investigates the influence of advertising on children's brand awareness. Brand awareness is usually investigated by showing children brand logos or brand characters and then measuring the extent to which they recognize or recall the relevant brands. Brand recognition is investigated by showing children brand logos or characters and then asking them to which brand or product a particular logo best fits. The children can choose from a number of options. In the case of brand recall, the children have to name the brand spontaneously while looking at the logos or characters.

Both correlational and experimental research into children's brand recognition has found that television advertising stimulates children's brand recognition (e.g., Fischer, Schwartz, Richards, Goldstein, & Rojas, 1991). However, research into the brand recall of children has come up with far less clear results. In a study by Ward, Wackman, and Wartella (1977), children of 4 to 12 years of age were asked to name as many brands as possible from a particular product group. They were asked, for example, to name as many brands of toothpaste as possible. Although most brands that were named were advertised frequently on television, the relationship between watching television and brand recall was not significant. Also, in another study that investigated children of different ages, no positive relationship was found among children from 4 to 14 years of age (Atkin, 1975).

A final and perhaps the most important explanation for the finding that advertising has more effect on older children's brand recall is that older children have a greater knowledge than younger children. Recall studies have suggested that new information is best remembered when it is related to existing knowledge in the memory. Because younger children often lack ...
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