Children's Early Understanding
of Television Advertisements
Concerns about young children's lack of understanding of television advertising have frequently been voiced by parents, regulatory bodies, and politicians who, in turn, have been reassured by advertisers and marketers that children fully understand such advertising and there is no need for further research or regulation. In publications such as Marketing (Hanson, 2000) and Marketing Week (Shannon, 2000), marketing practitioners have defended advertising to children, citing research claims that children as young as three or four years of age understand that advertising has a persuasive agenda (e.g., Donohue, Henke, & Donohue, 1980; Gaines & Esserman, 1981). On the other hand, Sweden has defended its current policy of banning television advertising to under-12s by stating they have difficulty in understanding the purpose of advertising (Bjurstrom, 1994; Edling, 1999). The key points that dominate the existing research in this area include young children's ability to differentiate advertising from surrounding programs, their early understanding of advertising, how this understanding is measured and factors that may mitigate this understanding. Research with very young children has certain difficulties because of their language capability, and different researchers have used various methodologies, which has led to contradictory results. Consequently, there is much disagreement both among academics and between academics and practitioners regarding the ages at which children can differentiate between program and advertising material and when they can understand the persuasive intent of advertising.