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Influence of Advertising on Children

Info: 5473 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 12th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Young PeopleAdvertising



This chapter provides general information on the influence of advertising to children by looking at different researches and surveys on media influence and implications on the behaviour of children. This research attempts to study the implications of advertising on the behaviour of children in the UK. The research aims and objectives are also provided in this chapter.

1.1 Influence of Advertising on Child Behaviour

Technology has created more choices for people to gain an access to information. The development of modern technology enables all ages to access various types of information with unlimited access. Also, major advances in the media technology have created different and unique ways of providing products and services to several audiences. For instance, animation are used in various numbers of advertising to children, and the messages from these television advertisements affect children in gender role stereotype learning (Hogg & Garrow 2003).

These days, people cannot watch television, go shopping, or browse the internet without being flooded with advertisements (Dotson & Hyatt 2005). Not only adults are exposed to these advertisements, but young children are also targeted by many advertisements with an attempt to sell these products and services to them, such as movies and food (Flew 2002).

A research indicated that children under eight years old are more likely to accept advertising messages as been truthful and unbiased (Cohen et al. 2002). Therefore, it is difficult for children to see and examine the hidden agenda in thousands of advertisements they watch every year (Cohen et al. 2002).

A study showed that many advertisements for toys, snack food, video games, and cereal are often targeted towards children. However, it is also crucial for parents to watch out for other advertisements. An example is beer and cigarette advertisements that are usually directed towards adults also have messages that can influence children (Shin & Cameron 2003).

According to Dotson & Hyatt (2005), beer advertisements are shown very often during sport events. Beer advertisements are also seen by millions of young children. Research finding showed that these advertisements attempt to create both brand familiarity and positive attitudes towards drinking in children aged between 9 and 10 years old (Shin & Cameron 2003).

In addition, a research finding revealed that young children can be persuaded very easily by the messages of advertisements (Dotson & Hyatt 2005). Young children believe that the messages in the adverts are truthful and unbiased, and this can cause unhealthy behaviours in children, including:

  • Poor eating habits: This is a factor in today’s youth obesity epidemic (Dotson & Hyatt 2005). The most common advertisements directed towards young children include sweets, fizzy drinks, and other snack foods (Dotson & Hyatt 2005).
  • An increase in the likelihood of aggressive behaviour and less sensitivity to violence: Aggressive behaviour in young children is more likely to appear if a child is exposed to the advertisements for violent video games, movies, and television programs (Dotson & Hyatt 2005).

The research result also indicated that advertisements can be the cause of conflict between parents and children (Meech 1999). The research showed that commercials often get young children to want the advertised products and then pressurising their parents to buy it for them. As a result, the conflict between them takes place when the parents say ‘no’ (Meech 1999).

1.2 Advertising Implications and Health and Obesity Issues

In 2003, the BBC revealed that corporate giants such as McDonald’s, Cadbury Schweppes, PepsiCo UK, and Kellogg’s faced a tough time from the committee of the Members of Parliament who had been holding a long running investigation into the state of the nation’s health (BBC UK 2003).

McDonald’s, Cadbury Schweppes, PepsiCo UK, and Kellogg’s were accused of marketing high calories meals aimed at children, while neglecting the health implications of a fast food diet (BBC UK 2003). It was revealed by the Chairman of the Health Committee that some food commercials from these accused corporate giants failed to carry health warnings on the packages in similar manner to the tobacco (BBC UK 2003).

Chairman of the Health Committee stated that a certain branded cheeseburger with fries and a milkshake would take nine miles to walk off, and this level is too high for young children (BBC UK 2003). It was reported that calorie content does not mean a great deal to people. However, the messages in the advertising are not sufficiently honest to their audiences (BBC UK 2003).

An article in reputed medical journal called ‘The Lancet’ studied and suggested that celebrity endorsement of ‘junk food’ should be banned. Also, the scale of health and obesity problems have been highlighted in a report of the Food Standards Agency, claiming that some 15 per cent of 15 year-old children are now obese. This figure is three times as many as ten years ago (BBC UK 2003).

In addition, the UK government admitted a serious concern about the growing incidence of obesity in the UK by putting new regulations on food and drink manufacturers who must follow the strict code of practice when producing adverts aimed at children (BBC UK 2003). Plans to improve school students’ diet have also been welcomed by the UK government.

A research titled ‘Food Marketing and Advertising Directed at Children and Adolescents: Implications for Overweight’ (Apha Food and Nutrition 2004) indicates that there is a growing outbreak of overweight children. The unhealthy eating habits of young kids has brought attention to the possible role that food and beverage advertising and marketing play in influencing eating behaviours in young children.

In recent years, youth consumers have become potential target market for the food and beverage industry because of their spending power, purchasing influence, and as future adult consumers. Therefore, young children are now the target market of the intense and aggressive food marketing and advertising campaigns.

Marketers and advertisers have been employing multiple techniques and channels to reach youth consumers, beginning when they are still toddlers in order to develop and build brands and also encourage the product use when they are in their youth phase. These food marketing channels comprise of effectively and carefully developed marketing communications strategies. Examples include television advertising, in-school marketing, product placements, kids clubs, internet, products with branded logos, and youth-targeted marketing promotions like cross-selling and tie-ins marketing campaigns. It was also reported that foods targeted at children contain high fat, salt, and sugar contents which are the main causes of being overweight.

In addition, television advertising and in-school marketing techniques are two of the most prevalent forms of marketing to young children. Television is reported as the largest source of media messages about food to children, particularly younger children.

Moreover, a qualitative survey by the Office of Communication (2004) indicates that the average child or adolescent watches an average of three hours of television per day. It showed that young children may view as many as 40,000 commercials each year and food appears to be the most frequently advertised product category on children’s television, accounting for over 50 percent of all advertisements.

The survey also disclosed that children view an average of one food commercial every five minutes of television viewing time, and they may see as many as three hours of food commercials each week. Several studies have documented that the foods targeted at young children’s television are mainly high in sugar and fat, with almost no references to fruits or vegetables.

Young children and adolescents are currently being exposed to an increasing and unprecedented amount of food advertising and marketing through a wide range of places. It is revealed that young children have few defences against persuasive advertisements and misleading messages.

1.3 Restrictions on Messages of Advertising to Children

In recent years, several studies were conducted to highlight and understand the implications of advertising on the behaviour of young children. These studies focus on different aspect. For example, Maher (et al. 2006) carried a research to investigate the changes in types of advertised food products and the use of nutrition versus consumer appeals in children’s advertising from 2000 to 2005.

The results revealed that obesity is a serious and expanding concern especially the health of young children. The research further indicated that messages on food advertising have a major impact on eating behaviour. Children tend to ask for food advertised on television when they are eating out with families (Maher et al. 2006). Also, the research disclosed that food processors and restaurants have not changed their advertising messages to young children in response to the multitude of pressure the industry is experiencing (Maher et al. 2006).

A recent study by the Office of Communication (OFCOM) revealed that restrictions were launched to eliminate misleading advertising to children. OFCOM published the results of its extended consultation on the television content and scheduling restrictions for food advertising at children. The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) has included the new restrictions in its Television Code and CAP (CAP News 2007).

The new changes to the television restrictions are now known to all organizations involved in food and soft drink advertising (CAP News 2007). Recently, the BCAP and the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC) conducted training sessions for the industry and explained the new restrictions and implications of radio advertisements directed at children (CAP News 2007).

The launch of new rules on advertising’ messages to children were based on the agreement of the committee members. The television content restrictions were put into place on 1st of July 2007, while the CAP code changes were published by 1 April 2008 (CAP News 2007).

1.4 Research Aims

  • To examine the effect of advertising on children for the purposes of marketing
  • To know the effect of advertising on a child’s eating habit.
  • To understand the opinion of parents on the role of marketers and advertisers.



2.1 Defining Implications of Advertising on Children

According to Terry Flew (2002), advertising influence is referred to

“The way in which the mass media in all of their forms affect the way the audiences act and behave in their daily lives. The forms of media include television, films, songs and other similar forms.”

     (Flew 2002)

Jostein Gripsrud (2002) revealed in a book titled ‘Understanding Media Culture’ that the rapid development of technology has had an impact over the growth of media and advertising over the past few years. He stated that the new forms of media such as the internet changes the way people consume media or advertise products and services. The fast development of media has raised questions on the issue of how media influences attitudes and beliefs of customers.

Flew (2002) also disclosed that one of a popular passive audience theories is the inoculation model. This is a long-term affect model. This model explained that upon being exposed to advertising’s messages, the viewers will become instantaneously immune to them (2002). Karen Hartman (2000) applied the concept of this model to conduct a research titled ‘Studies of negative political advertising: an annotated bibliography.’

Gripsrud (2002) argued against the concept of the inoculation model that there was no evidence that the inoculation effect can lead to negative perception, attitude and behaviour. In fact, Gripsrud (2002) said that there was only basic finding to suggest that people had even seen the information which would lead to negative perception. As a result, this concept is commonly discredited by media theorists (Gripsrud 2002).

2.2 Media and Advertising Implication on Children

2.2.1 Television Influence on Human Development

Margaret Hogg and Jade Garrow (2003) highlighted in their research called ‘Gender, identity and the consumption of advertising’ that television advertising has the most influential impact in shaping ideas of appropriate gender role. They concluded that television had a significant impact on the lives of children, influencing attitudes about race and gender (Hogg & Garrow 2003).

Hogg and Garrow (2003) also claimed in their research that young children are exposed to around 20,000 advertisements a year. By the time they finished or graduated from secondary schools, they would have watched and witnessed many violent deaths on television which could lead to aggressive copycat behaviours (Hogg & Garrow 2003).

In addition, Michael Dotson and Eva Hyatt (2005) carried out a research to examine the major factors influencing children’s consumer socialization. The research findings showed that that pro-social and antisocial behaviour was influenced by television programs (Dotson & Hyatt 2005).

In a research entitled ‘Children’s television programming’ (Cohen et al. 2002), it was revealed that young children spend an average of thirty hours a week watching television programs. The study also indicated that children spend more time watching television than the time they spend on anything else with sleeping as an exception (Cohen et al. 2002).

Furthermore, Kara Chan and James McNeal (2006) examined the effect of advertising on children in China. The main aim of their research was to examine how advertising ownership, media usage, and attention to advertising vary among urban and rural children in Mainland China (Chan & McNeal 2006). The study also collected information regarding the context of media usage and time spent on various activities.

A survey of 1,977 urban rural children age group of 6 to 13 year-old in four Chinese cities, including Beijing, Guangzhou, Nanjing and Shanghai, and in the rural areas of four provinces – Heilongjian, Hubei, Hunan and Yunnan was carried out in March 2003 to May 2004 (Chan & McNeal 2006). The questionnaires were distributed through sixteen elementary schools and local researchers were selected and trained to administer the data collection (Chan & McNeal 2006).

The research result indicated that media ownership and media exposure were high for television, children’s books, cassette players, VCD players and radios among both urban and rural samples (Chan & McNeal 2006). In general, media ownership, exposure and usage were far higher among urban children than among rural children. However, the results revealed that television ownership and television exposure were slightly higher among rural children than among urban children.

Chan and McNeal (2006) also claimed in their study that the urban-rural gap between media ownership and media exposure was more well-known for new media forms such as internet. Chinese children had low to medium attention to advertising. Rural children were reported to have a higher attention to television commercial than urban children, whilst urban children reported a higher attention to other forms of advertising than rural children (Chan & McNeal 2006).

2.2.2 Advertising Influence on Child Behaviour

Jobber (1974) conducted a research examining the implications television advertising had on consumers’ behaviour. His research presented and analyzed consumer reaction to television advertising. It assessed consumer attitude by the use of three criteria, including consumer feeling exaggerated and annoying advertising, the consumer’s subjective assessment of creative advertising and their assessment of their ideal type of advertisement (Jobber 1974). The research finding showed that consumer reactions were disturbing, indicating the uncomplimentary result which could reduce advertising effectiveness (Jobber 1974).

In addition, Noor Ghani (2004) disclosed in a research ‘Television viewing and consumer behaviour’ that the effect of television programs on children’s development as consumers begins with consumer socialization. Ghani (2004) stated that television is an influential model for children’s expressions of nonverbal behaviour and emotion. A survey of Malaysian schoolchildren was studied, focusing on demographic variables, such as gender and family income.

Ghani (2004) also considered personal trait, in relation to television viewing habits and consumer behaviours – propensity to buy, time spent watching television, preferred type of programme etc. The research results indicated that the importance of family income is a predictor of the differences in socialization, while gender is less influential (Ghani 2004).The study also looked at six personality traits and revealed that an aggressive-passive personality is the most influential on socialization (Ghani 2004).

2.2.4 Media and Advertising Influence on Food Choice Preference

A study examined the implications television advertisements on food and eating behaviour was conducted by Roger Dickson (2000). He described the background to and main findings from a three-year funded research project on the role of television in the food choices of young people. The research project investigated the nature and extent of television’s portrayal of food and eating of young people’s interpretation (Dickson 2000).

The research finding indicated that food and eating habits were portrayed very frequently on the television advertisements in the UK, but the ‘message’ in television programmes contrasts with the ‘message’ in the advertising in the terms of nutritional content of the food depicted (Dickson 2000). Dickson stated that this disorder eating behaviours and contradiction reflected in young viewers’ accounts of their own eating habits.

In addition, a serious public concern on ‘size zero’ boy size is another good example of television advertising and media implications on unhealthy eating habit of young generations. In an article titled ‘Primetime television impact on adolescents impression of bodyweight, sex appeal and food and beverage consumption’ (Hamp et al. 2004)’ investigated the issue.

The research presented a content analysis of ten television programmes frequently viewed by twelve to seventeen year-olds consumers in the US. The research finding indicated that television viewing is ever-present in adolescent culture, but the influence of television characters on adolescent behaviours and social norms is not well understood among young audients (Hamp et al. 2004).

Another survey conducted by posting questionnaires online to investigate the same issue with students aged between 12 to 19 year-olds from across the state of Arizona participated to complete the survey electronically. The data were assessed by tabulation, principal axis factor analysis and liner regression analysis (Hamp et al. 2004)

The research results indicated that 12 per cent of the subjects had a body mass index for age over the 95th percentile, 50 per cent of them reported watching television two hours of each day, and 59 per cent reported accruing 60 minutes of exercise and physical each day (Hamp et al. 2004).

The results also discovered that over 35 per cent of respondents reported eating pizza and pasta frequently (Hamp et al. 2004). In the drink category, beer and wine were seen as the most frequently consumed beverages on television, while 63.9 per cent of sample members reported soda as their personal beverage of choice preference (Hamp et al. 2004).

The factors extraction from this survey revealed three-factor solutions: television viewers and perceivers, television viewers and doers. Significant predictors of body mass index for age included urbanity and survey questions related to bodyweight perceptions (Hamp et al. 2004). It can be concluded that television programs with the focuses on sex appeal, thinness, and alcohol may have a powerful effect on young people’ self-esteem, body satisfaction, and eating habits (Hamp et al. 2004).

2.3 The Survey Child Obesity – Food Advertising in Context by Ofcom

This section presents the executive summary from a survey findings investigated by the Office of Communication (Ofcom), focusing on children’s food choice, parents’ understanding and influence, and the role of food promotions. The full research results are available on Ofcom’s official website http://www.ofcom.org.uk.

A survey was carried out by Ofcom in 2004 to present the followings:

  • Background data on national lifestyle changes
  • Re-analysis of market data on family food purchase and consumption
  • An analysis of The Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB)
  • An analysis of data from Neilsen Media Research on the advertising market
  • The content analysis of food advertising on ITV1
  • The summary of bespoke qualitative and quantitative research commissioned by Ofcom to identify implications on children’s food preferences, purchase behaviour and consumption, and the role of television advertising

2.3.1 Changing Lifestyle Effect British Food Culture

The lifestyle trends in the UK include the rising incomes, longer working hours, increasing numbers of working mothers, time-poor/cash-rich parents support a ‘convenience food culture’ and the increased consumption of High Fat, Salt and Sugar (HFSS) foods.

The demand for ready-meals in the UK grew by 44 per cent between 1990 and 2002. People in the UK are now consuming double the amount of ready-meals consumed in France, and six times the number in Spain. 80 per cent of households in the UK have a microwave, compared with 27 per cent in Italy (Ofcom 2004).

The findings in qualitative research by Ofcom indicate that many mothers talked of having no time to cook meals. There was a feeling that real cooking is hard work. The abundance of processed products that do not need forward planning and require little effort, making it easy to produce food for children quickly and conveniently (Ofcom 2004). Also, the lack of preparation is important to older children who are likely to be preparing their own snacks.

Ofcom’s qualitative research found that breakfast and packed lunches for school are prepared in the morning rush, when mothers are particularly busy. The food industry has developed products, and many of which are high fat, salt, and sugar contents, targeting these eating occasions and markets them heavily to mothers and children (Ofcom 2004).

The research results are also somewhat contradictory. There is some evidence that demand for take-away meals and affordable eating options outside the home are on an increase. The food industry has met such needs by the expansion of fast food outlets, and many of which sell high fat, salt, and sugar products (Ofcom 2004).

The pre-prepared, convenience foods, take-away meals and eating-out, reduce parents’ control over what goes into food, making it more difficult to monitor high fat, salt, and sugar contents (Ofcom 2004). In addition, the convenient and pre-prepared meals are less likely to be eaten with fresh fruits and vegetables (Ofcom 2004). There is a continuously growing snacking culture amongst children who favours high fat, salt, and sugar foods consumption (Ofcom 2004).There is a decline on the number of occasions that a family eats together (Ofcom 2004).

The food and grocery market has developed a range of chilled, frozen, and pre-prepared meals targeting children who eat without adults (Ofcom 2004). These ready-to-cook meals can be prepared without affecting dining patterns of the rest of the household (Ofcom 2004). There is an increasing of less controlling parents and child relationships. Children have more spending power and they are increasingly control their own eating patterns (Ofcom 2004).

2.3.2 What Children Are Eating?

According to the research conducted by Ofcom (2004), it was reported that British children are reported to enjoy foods high in fats, sugars and salt, such as sweets, soft drinks, crisps and savoury snacks, fast food and pre-sugared breakfast cereals, which are well-known as ‘the Big Five’ (Ofcom 2004).

Also, families are consuming more pre-prepared and convenience foods, which are high in fats, salt and sugar. This trend makes ‘a Big 6′ of foods, urging dieticians and health professionals to have serious concerns (Ofcom 2004). Children consume well below the recommended amount of fresh fruits and vegetables (Ofcom 2004). The World Health Organization recommends at least five portions of fruits and vegetables per day (Ofcom 2004).

Fresh fruit consumption in household has risen for much of the last twenty-five years, while fresh green vegetables consumption was 27 per cent lower in 2000 than in 1975 (Ofcom 2004). Furthermore, most kids do know that fruits and vegetables are good for them, but they prefer the taste of high fat, salt, and sugar food (Ofcom 2004). If young children do not want to get fat, it is because they perceive it to be unattractive (Ofcom 2004).

2.3.3 Factors Influencing Child Food Choices

  • Psychosocial factors – food preferences, meanings of food, and food knowledge
  • Biological factors, such as hunger and gender
  • Behavioural factors, including time and convenience and dieting patterns
  • Family – income, working status of mother, family eating patterns etc.
  • Friends – conformity, norms, and peers
  • Schools – school meals, sponsorship, and vending machines
  • Commercial sites, such as fast food restaurants and stores
  • Youth market and pester power
  • Media factors, such as television advertising

2.3.4 The Role of Parents in Child Obesity

According to the survey of the Gfk NOP investigated opinion on the role of parents in child obesity indicated that 79 per cent of parents have a great responsibility for the situation outlined in a recent publicity about child diet, while other groups are seen as having an important part to play, such as schools with 52 per cent and food manufacturers with 43 per cent (Ofcom 2004). About Just one third think the government (33 per cent) and the media (32 per cent) as for having great responsibility on the issue, followed by the supermarkets (28 per cent) and broadcasters (23 per cent) (Ofcom 2004).

When the subjects were asked which one of the same groups could do most to ensure that children eat healthily, the research finding indicated that parents and family are named by 55 per cent of the respondents, followed by food manufacturers, schools, media, the government, supermarkets, and broadcasters (Ofcom 2004).

The qualitative research conducted by the Ofcom suggested that the majority of parents often put off their child food preferences (Ofcom 2004). They also tended to serve their kids with high fat, salt, and sugar foods. These parents were more often to be found in the lower socio-economic groups in which money is tighter, and food choices in the area are more restricted (Ofcom 2004).

The research results also showed only a minority of parents who seemed to exercise effective control over their child food choices. These parents were usually better off in the term of income, and they more often found in the higher socio-economic groups (Ofcom 2004).

In addition, the qualitative research by Ofcome suggested that many mothers thought they know what a healthy diet is. However, these mothers were at a loss as to how to make the healthy diet attractive to their kids (Ofcom 2004). These mothers expressed that they would have to reject the whole categories of foods, such as dairy products, sugar, and carbohydrates. Such mothers believed the outcomes of healthy eating outlined in the media, lessening the risk of obesity and better dental health (Ofcom 2004).

Moreover, the minority of more confident, better-informed, and middle-class, mothers were more proactive (Ofcom 2004). These mothers were aware of the long-term risks involved with unhealthy eating habits which could cause heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Such mothers do not exclude whole categories of food, but they were more likely to limit the use of high fat, salt, and sugar foods and exclude those with artificial additives (Ofcom 2004).

2.3.5 The Role of Schools in Child Obesity

Ofcom’s qualitative research in schools revealed that there was a formal coverage of diet and nutrition in classrooms, where teachers educate students about healthy food choices (Ofcom 2004). In addition, there was evidence that some schools were making successful attempts to provide healthy food choices and influence students to have health diets (Ofcom 2004).

However, there was a little active supervision of what children actually choose to eat at schools during the lunchtimes. Moreover, most school provision appeared to be driven by what children wanted and could be seen as giving a seal of approval to eating high fat, salt, and sugar products which were popular among stents in both primary and secondary schools (Ofcom 2004).

Regarding the barriers to healthier diet in schools in the qualitative research reported that finance is a key barrier to healthier provision in schools (Ofcom 2004). To make food provision cost-effective, schools to sell high fat, salt, and sugar foods because these products are what children like, want and will buy (Ofcom 2004). Thus, the vending machines bring in much needed income for the schools.

Another key barrier to healthier provision in schools is that schools may lack of control over the food provision if contracted catering companies have power in terms of what food is provided (Ofcom 2004). These firms can be very resistant to moves towards healthier food which may be less popular among students and has an impact on the financial performance of their business operation (Ofcom 2004).

2.3.6 The Role of Television Advertising

An academic research confirmed that numbers of hours spent in watching television correlate with the measures of poor diet, poor health, and obesity among both children and adults (Ofcom 2004). There are three explanations for this finding:

  • Television viewing is an inactive activity that reduces metabolic rates and displaces physical exercise (Ofcom 2004).
  • Television viewing is associated with frequent snacking, pre-prepared meals and fast food consumption (Ofcom 2004).
  • Television viewing includes exposure to advertisements for HFSS food products (Ofcom 2004).

2.3.7 The Direct Effects of Television Advertising

Academic research showed the modest direct effects of television advertising on child food preference, consumption, and behaviour (Ofcom 2004). It revealed that there was insufficient evidence to determine the relative size of the effect of television advertising on child food choice by comparison with other relevant factors (Ofcom 2004).

In the context of the multiplicity of psychosocial, biological, behavioural, family, friends, schools, commercial sites youth market and pester power, and media factors were not surprising that they direct contribution of television advertising had been found to be modest (Ofcom 2004).

According to the Gfk NOP survey results, when television advertising is put in the context of other influencing factors, the subjects believed that it does not have an impact on food choice preferences among parents and children (Ofcom 2004). However, it is rather small when compared to

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