Parental Mediation of Undesired Advertising Effects

Article excerpt

Ever since James McNeal (1969) recognized children as a distinct consumer market, advertisers have been interested in developing strategies to reach the child consumer. The growing interest in children as consumers has been paralleled by increased concern about the consequences of marketing aimed at children, in particular television advertising. These concerns have been fueled by empirical evidence that children's exposure to television advertising may indeed lead to materialistic attitudes, increased purchase requests, and parent-child conflict (see Buijzen & Valkenburg, 2003a).

This study investigates which types of parental mediation are most effective in counteracting potentially undesirable advertising effects (Buijzen & Valkenburg, 2003a; Kunkel, 2001 ; Smith & Atkin, 2003; Valkenburg, 2004). In a parent-child survey, we investigated how various types of parental mediation affect the influence of television advertising on materialism, purchase requests, and parent-child conflict. Parental mediation is often considered the most effective tool in the management of television's influence on children (W. A. Donohue & Meyer, 1984). Children usually watch television in a family context that is largely provided by their parents. This family context not only influences how children use the medium and the messages they get from it but also how literate children become as television viewers (Dorr, 1986; Gunter & Furnham, 1998).

There is an impressive body of research on parental mediation of television content (see Austin, 2001). Parents can reduce undesirable media effects, including media-induced aggression (Nathanson, 1999, 2004; Nathanson & Cantor, 2000), fear responses (Cantor, Sparks, & Hoffner, 1988; Wilson, 1989; Wilson & Weiss, 1991), and alcohol use (Austin, 1997; Austin, Pinkleton, & Fujioka, 2000), and they can increase desirable effects, such as learning from educational television programs (Huston & Wright, 1994; Salomon, 1977; Valkenburg, Krcmar, & De Roos, 1998).

Although the mediation literature has burgeoned in the past two decades, research on parental mediation of advertising effects is still relatively scarce (Boush, 2001). A number of studies have investigated the effectiveness of media literacy programs about advertising (T. R. Donohue, Henke, & Meyer, 1983; Feshbach, Feshbach, & Cohen, 1982; Roberts, Christenson, Gibson, Mooser, & Goldberg, 1980; Robinson, Saphir, Kraemer, Varady, & Haydel, 2001). However, these studies have usually been conducted in school settings and have therefore disregarded the role of parents.

Two Types of Parental Mediation

Two types of parental mediation of children's advertising exposure have been identified in the literature (Carlson & Grossbart, 1988; Robertson, 1979). The first type involves parental mediation strategies specifically related to advertising; the second type is related to more general family consumer communication patterns.

Advertising Mediation

The advertising mediation literature has so far identified two strategies that parents can use to modify the effects of advertising: active and restrictive advertising mediation (Bijmolt, Claassen, & Brus, 1998; Wiman, 1983). Active mediation includes making deliberate comments and judgments about television commercials and actively explaining the nature and selling intent of advertising. Restrictive mediation involves sheltering children from advertising by reducing their exposure to it. This type of mediation includes family rules restricting children's viewing of commercial television channels. It has been argued that because young children lack the cognitive abilities to resist commercial messages, reducing their exposure to television may sometimes be the only effective way to counteract negative effects (Robinson et al., 2001).

The few studies that have investigated parental advertising mediation have focused on the effects of mediation on children's understanding of advertising (Bijmolt et al. …