The Impact of Television Advertising on Children's Christmas Wishes

By Buijzen, Moniek; Valkenburg, Patti M. | Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Television Advertising on Children's Christmas Wishes


Buijzen, Moniek, Valkenburg, Patti M., Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media


Advertising to children has always provoked strong feelings and contradictory opinions. Some advocates of child-directed advertising believe that advertising has no or negligible negative effect on children (Miller & Busch, 1979), and that the consequences of advertising are rarely lasting (Caron & Ward, 1975; Malrain, 1985). They argue that children are critical consumers who are capable of defending themselves against the possible harmful effects of advertising (Caron & Ward, 1975; Hite & Eck, 1987; Sheikh, Prasad, & Rao, 1974; Ward, 1984). According to other advocates, advertising provides children with valuable product information, so that they learn how to become consumers (Hite & Eck, 1987; Miller & Busch, 1979).

Many opponents of child-directed advertising, however, believe that commercials aimed at young children can have a profound impact on their beliefs, values, and moral norms (Gardner & Sheppard, 1989). Critics fear that children, more than adults, are susceptible to the seductive influences of commercials because they do not have the necessary cognitive skills to protect themselves against the attractive and cleverly put advertising messages (Adler, 1980; Caron & Ward, 1975). According to these authors, advertising to children can (a) create materialistic attitudes (Goldberg & Gorn, 1978; Hite & Eck, 1987); (b) result in conflicts in the family (Isler, Popper, & Ward, 1987; Robertson, Ward, Gatignon, & Klees, 1979; Ward & Wackman, 1972); and (c) encourage bad eating habits (Dawson, Jeffrey, & Walsh, 1988; Donohue, 1975; Galst, 1980; Galst & White, 1976; Goldberg, Gorn, & Gibson, 1978; Miller & Busch, 1979; Peterson & Lewis, 1988; Ross, Campbell, Huston-Stein, & Wright, 1981). Finally, opponents argue that advertising can make young children dissatisfied and unhappy because they are less able than adults to resist the temptations in advertisements (Feldman & Wolf, 1974; Goldberg & Gorn, 1978; Martin & Gentry, 1997; Miller & Busch, 1979; Richins, 1991; Sheikh & Moleski, 1977).

Since the mid 1970s, an impressive number of studies on the topic of children and advertising have been conducted. These studies have focused on three types of effects: cognitive, affective, and behavioral effects (Rossiter, 1979). Studies examining the cognitive effects of child advertising usually focus on children's ability to distinguish commercials from television programs (Blosser & Roberts, 1985; Butter, Popovich, Stackhouse, & Garner, 1981), and their ability to understand the persuasive nature and selling intent of advertising (Blosser & Roberts, 1985; Donohue, Henke, & Donohue, 1980; Rossiter & Robertson, 1976). Most of these studies have adopted Piaget's (1965) theory of cognitive development to guide their research (e.g., Rubin, 1974; Wackman, Wartella, & Ward, 1977; Ward, 1974; Wartella & Ettema, 1974). Cognitive-effects studies have demonstrated that children who are at Piaget's preoperational stage (2-7 years) react differently to commercials than do children at the concrete operational stage (7-12 years). It has been shown, for example, that children in the concrete operational stage are progressively more able to distinguish commercials from television programs (Robertson & Rossiter, 1974; Ward, Reale, & Levinson, 1972), and show a better understanding of the persuasive intent of commercials (Blatt, Spencer, & Ward, 1972; Robertson & Rossiter, 1974; Ward et al., 1972; Ward, Wackman, & Wartella, 1977).

Studies investigating the affective effects of advertising concentrate on children's liking of and trust in commercials (Barling & Fullagar, 1983; Barry & Hansen, 1973; Bever, Smith, Bengen, & Johnson, 1975; Derbaix & Bree, 1997; Donohue, 1975; Mitchell, 1986; Robertson & Rossiter, 1974). Affective-effects studies have documented, for instance, that children's responses towards commercials gradually become less favorable as they enter the concrete operational stage (Barling & Fullagar, 1983; Robertson & Rossiter, 1974). …

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