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Many companies will advertise their products to children. From Barbie’s to the latest Xbox or PlayStation, the advertising possibilities are endless. Product promotion can be seen on TV adverts, magazines, websites, social media and more recently in video games!
As adults, we are all aware of the intentions of advertising and the responses it aims to achieve. This means we can recognise an advertising piece when we see one and are often less susceptible to its persuasive messages. This awareness is referred to as advertising literacy – having the skills to recognise, assess and understand advertising.
Children, on the other hand, have a lower level of advertising literacy which means they may not realise what an advert is and therefore will be more influenced by its messages.
So, the questions are:
1. Do children recognise an advertisement when they see one?
2. Are younger children influenced more by ads than older children?
3. Does adverting persuade children and affect their choices?
4. Does advertising literacy affect children’s purchasing habits?
There have been a number of research studies examining these questions. Below we consider what they have found.
Advergames are games that contain advertising for a brand. They could be created by the brand for marketing or could be popular games who have sponsors. E.g. a character in a game could be eating the sponsors snack food.
This study found that 75% of children who did not receive advertising literacy training did not recognise advergames as a type of advertising. Those with the training showed a notably greater understanding, and children who saw the advergame as a form of advertising had a more dubious outlook towards it.
This indicates that children are more susceptible to persuasive messages such as advergames, as they do not recognise that they are forms of advertising. This will make them more likely to request/purchase the products. If they are aware of the advertising, suggesting increased advertising literacy, they are less likely to be persuaded by the messages.
This answers questions number one and three – children often don’t recognise an advert when they see one if they have a low level of advertising literacy. It is indicated that advertising does persuade children and affect their choice, especially when they are not aware they are adverts.
This study examined children’s understanding of advertising tactics such as celebrity promotion and repeating ads, which are used to prompt specific responses. It was found that children’s understanding of the tactics gradually increased with age (8-12 years old). A considerable rise was seen at 10 years. The age at which children gained an adult level of understanding varied across tactics.
This signifies that as children’s advertising literacy increases with age, they begin to see the intention of advertising and the responses they attempt to create. It also shows that children’s understanding is tactic dependent, with some tactics being more difficult to decipher than others.
This answers question two – it is likely that younger children will be more influenced by ads than older children because they have a lower level of advertising literacy.
This study considered the effects of food advertising literacy on 140 children aged 10-11 years old. Group A received the literacy program, Group B received basic nutritional information and Group C did not receive any learning.
It was revealed that Group A had greater nutritional awareness, food advertising literacy and food buying behaviour after the study, compared to group B and C. However, 1 month later there was no substantial increase in these three points.
This insinuates that although educating children in advertising leads to an increased understanding, this is forgotten over time. This means children need to be educated over time to recognise and understand the motives of advertising.
This answers question four – it is suggested that becoming educated in advertising literacy leads to more informed buying choices in children and less susceptibility to adverts, however, this education needs to be consistent.
These studies imply that advertising literacy can have a huge impact on children and how they respond to advertising. If children do not have this advertising knowledge, they are likely to be more susceptible to advertising messages and easily persuaded.
Children’s advertising literacy seems to increase with age which means younger children are expected to be more influenced by ads than older children.
An, S., Jin, H. S., & Park, E. H. (2014). Children's Advertising Literacy for Advergames: Perception of the Game as Advertising. Journal of Advertising, 43(1), 63-72.
Rozendaal, E., Buijzen, M., & Valkenburg, P. (2011). Children’s understanding of advertisers’ persuasive tactics. International Journal of Advertising, 30(2), 329-350.
Liao, L., Lai, I., Chang, L., & Lee, C. (2016). Effects of a food advertising literacy intervention on Taiwanese children’s food purchasing behaviours. Health Educational Research, 31(4), 509-520.