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23 May 2015

How Children Can Deal With Advertising

Keywords: advertising, brands, characters, experiment, intervention, persuasion, resistance, television, North America,

A study presented at the International Communication Association conference highlights the importance of activating children’s (8-10 y/o) critical attitudes towards advertising in order to make them less susceptible to advertising effects. The study shows that a forewarning of advertising’s manipulative intent (a warning for the deceptive nature of advertising prior to advertising exposure) is a successful method to help children activate their critical attitudes.

Take aways

  • Children’s (8-10 y/o) susceptibility to advertising can be reduced by activating their critical attitudes towards advertising. 
  • When children’s skepticism towards and dislike of advertising -also known as their attitudinal advertising literacy- is activated, they are more likely to reduce their favorable brand attitudes and lower their advertised product desire. 
  • Warnings for advertising’s manipulative intentions prior to exposure to TV advertising offer potential in stimulating and activating children’s critical attitudes. 
  • For policymakers and intervention developers it’s important to know that knowledge of advertising (conceptual advertising literacy) isn’t enough for children to defend against advertising. Critical feelings towards advertising must be stimulated within children to increase their resistance to advertising persuasion. 

Study information

  • The question?

    Are forewarning’s of advertising’s intent successful in strengthening children’s advertising defenses?

  • Who?

    159 8- to 10-year-old children (mean age: 8 years old; 45% were boys)

  • Where?

    The Netherlands, Europe

  • How?

    All children were shown a short video including a fragment of the Dutch television series Spangas followed by a commercial break which consisted of a commercial bumper and some commercials (of which one for the chocolate spread brand Nutella).Two different types of warnings were tested prior to exposure to TV advertising: a forewarning of advertising’s commercial intent (a warning for the fact that commercials want people to like and buy products), and a forewarning of advertising’s manipulative intent (a warning for the fact that commercials are not always fair, and sometimes tell things that are untrue). To test whether a forewarning alone was enough to activate children’s advertising defenses or whether children need an additional reminder during ad exposure to remind them of the intent of advertising, an additional prompt was developed as well, that is a character that appeared during the commercial with a red flag in his hand.

    To measure the effects of the forewarnings and the additional prompt, some children were shown the commercial bumper accompanied by the forewarning of commercial intent, some with the forewarning of manipulative intent, and some without a forewarning. Additionally, some children also received the additional reminder during the commercial break. After viewing, children’s conceptual (awareness of advertising’s selling and persuasive intent) and attitudinal advertising literacy (skepticism towards and dislike of advertising) were assessed. Children were also asked how much they liked the brand shown in the commercial (Nutella chocolate spread), and how much they would like to have it. 

Facts and findings

  • A forewarning of advertising’s commercial intent accompanied by an additional prompt during advertising exposure made children more aware of the selling intent of advertising (part of their conceptual advertising literacy), however this warning type did not lead to less positive brand attitudes and lower advertised product desire.
  • Only a forewarning of manipulative intent made children less susceptible to TV advertising, since this type of warning increased children’s skepticism towards and dislike of advertising (attitudinal advertising literacy), which in turn led to less positive brand attitudes and lower advertised product desire. 
  • Thus, the warning for advertising’s manipulative intent prior to advertising exposure was most successful in reducing children’s advertising susceptibility by activating their attitudinal advertising literacy. 
  • An explanation for this relates to the way children process advertising. Children experience difficulties with processing advertising critically due to all the appealing content in commercials. Since children’s attitudinal advertising literacy is more based on low-effort, it might be more easy for children to use it as a critical defense.