Girls' Responses to Advertisements Featuring Active, Passive, and Product-Alone Visual Portrayals

Article excerpt


The influence of the child and teen market segments in the US will increase over the next decade just as it has over the previous one. This increase will be partly due to additional youth spending and partly due to increased influence on family spending (McNeal, 1998; Zollo, 1995). From 1991 through 1997, the typical 10-year-old child had an increase in allowance of 46% to an average of $6.13 per week. That same child had a total average income per week of $13.93, an increase from 1991 of 76%. This total increase was due to allowances in part, but more importantly to earnings from household chores and from gifts. Children aged 2 to 14 years were estimated to directly influence $188 billion in spending in the US in 1997 (McNeal, 1998). Teens aged 12 to 19 years old have nearly $100 billion in total annual spending power. Teenaged girls specifically have about $34 a week to spend and typically spend more of their family's money than do boys (Zollo, 1995).

With this additional spending from an already important market, businesses aiming at children are becoming even more interested in learning about marketing to children. McNeal (1998) reports that the most common mistakes that children's marketers commit are based in lack of credible advertising research. The first mistake is when marketers assume that their experiences rearing their own children make them experts, when in fact no one family's children is typical of all children in the US. The second mistake occurs when marketers assume that their own personal experiences growing up still hold true. Furthermore, McNeal argues that companies do substantially more marketing research on adults than they do on children. Phelps and Hoy (1996) report that the advertising industry sees children's advertising issues as one of their top concerns in this decade. This concern is evident from the amount of media buying advertisers are targeting at children. Advertising in children's programming is typically sold out, and with limited opportunities to advertise exclusively to this market, one primary goal is to spend those advertising dollars more effectively (Stipp, 1993).

One means of increasing the efficiency of advertising dollars is to study which advertising images will result in the most positive attitudes towards the advertisements themselves as well as toward the featured brands. This study looks at the target market of fourth to twelfth grade girls and explores their responses to differing visuals within the ads.

The product was a fictitious candy bar, the Confetti Bar. The study used a snack bar as its product primarily because McNeal (1998) reported that one-third of all children's income went to food and beverages, with this product category being the largest in overall spending for children. In 1997, children were estimated to have spent $7.7 million of their own money on food and beverages and to have influenced $110 million in spending on this category that year.

Girls were sampled in this study because they were the gender experiencing the most obvious changes in roles. Had these changes in roles led to new preferences among girls for how they were portrayed in advertising? Much of the research on gender stereotyping was dated, originating primarily in the 1970s (Browne, 1998). Additionally, though research on media content concerning girls and women was sometimes available, research on females' responses to media content was virtually absent. Questions arise as to whether girls identified with images presented to them. What images or portrayals did they find pleasurable (Currie, 1997)?

To increase their advertising effectiveness, children's marketers could readily adjust the type of visual portrayal their ad messages included. Would advertisements create more attention, better recognition and recall, or a higher purchase response if the ads included no models or girl models? Furthermore, would girls prefer ads in which they were pictured in active or passive roles? …