“The effect of advertising on children in the Midlands, UK”
Advertising to children is considered as one of the most researched areas involving advertising industry, media industry, manufacturers, retailers and general public. A significant number of research studies have been undertaken in recent decades across various geographic regions to understand children’s perception about advertisements and impact of advertisements on the behavioural and psychological habits of children in general. Further studies have been made to understand the intentions behind the enormous amount of investments by various advertisers for designing advertisements targeted towards children and success rate of such investments. Concerns have been raised in a number of studies about the observed influence of advertisements to children on their eating habits and parent-child conflict. Moreover, research studies have also found significant evidence of harmful effect of advertising to children such as positive attitude toward consumption of alcohol and tobacco related products and aggressive behavior of children influenced by violent media offerings. The objective of this research study is to validate those existing research findings in the context of population of Midlands, UK.
The methodology used for this research study consisted of both qualitative and quantitative analysis. Review of existing literature has been done using articles, books, journals, reports and other secondary sources of data to gather some qualitative insights about the research issues. For quantitative analysis, a survey questionnaire was designed to gather some key insights from the inhabitants of Midlands, UK and responses were analysed using software tools to draw conclusions on research issues. The results of the analysis proved the three hypotheses proposed during the initial part of the research study about the impact of advertisement of children in the context of inhabitants of Midlands, UK as true and valid. The research study concludes with suggestions for future research in this area to gain further understanding of the topic from various other perspectives.
Table of Contents
1.1 Background to the research
1.2 Research problem, aim/hypothesis for the dissertation
1.4 Outline of the report
2 Literature Review
2.2 Discussion on existing literature on research issues
3.1 Research Approach
3.2 Justification for the methodology
3.3 Data collection and analytical tools/techniques
3.4 Limitations of research design
4 Analysis of data
4.2 Results Gathered
4.3 Analysis of results
5 Conclusions and implications
5.2 Conclusions about the research issue or proposition
5.3 further researches
References & Bibliography
1.1 Background to the Research
Advertising can hardly be recognized as a recent human venture; archaeological evidence suggests that people in ancient Rome and Pompeii used signs to advertise property for rent. However the advent of advertising as an exclusive industry did not happen until the arrival of the various mass media such as radio, printing and television (Brian, 2004). Nevertheless, advertising to children is a topic that has consistently stirred debate over the past 30 years. Numerous reasons can be put forward for such huge attraction to this topic. First of all, there exist a general belief that extent of children’s understanding of commercial message is quite lucid. On the other hand, some fear that children may not grasp the persuasive aspect of advertising; therefore, they are unable to defend against messages (Macklin, 1999). Such concerns have grown with the advent and widespread adoption of television, particularly, cable television, which permitted the television channels to design child-oriented programming and advertising. The latest invention of 21st century, Internet, has provided an explosive opportunity to the marketers of products to advertise their products through thousands of child-oriented web sites in the past few years.
In Europe and the USA, the subject of advertising to children has attracted huge debate in recent times. The opponents of the argument believe that the promotion to children raises consumerism and new generations of ‘must-have’ consumers. However there exist a mass believe in general that advertising to children has a detrimental effect on children’s health and well being. The proponents of the argument emphasize the need for children to be encouraged to decode information they are exposed to (Jackson, 2003). However the centre of the debate lies on the role of children as consumers and whether or not children should be secluded from marketing and particularly television advertising (Furnham 2000). Research studies supports the ‘ethical’ argument that children who are less than eight years old are unable to decode advertising intent and are therefore exposed to inappropriate manipulation by advertisers. The advertising industry however provides an alternative view to the argument; according to them advertising is only one of many stimuli on a child’s purchasing behaviour, and in fact it is believed to help developing a critical sense of the culture within the minds of children. Advertising to children has attracted many critics in recent times who are calling for stricter regulation of advertisements broadcasted through different media agents. According to them, “advertising appeals to our emotions and not our intellect” (Wilcox et al 2004) and while “adults can make a rational distinction between the two; it is an accepted assumption that children cannot” (Furnham, 2000). Such criticisms were taken seriously by national governments and other social organizations. The British Parliament, for example, passed legislation in 1974 intending to protect children from the efforts of merchants to induce them to buy products and assume debt (Klein, 1999). Nevertheless, children are always an element of great interest to retailers not only as primary consumers, but as influencers of secondary consumption. Marketing to children is considered as a highly lucrative and profitable business activity in the advertising world. However, the various impacts of advertising to children such as behavioral and physiological manipulation of a child at a very young and influential age make this topic a subject of discussion.
1.2 Research problem, aim/hypothesis for the dissertation
Children have their own purchasing power of influencing their parent’s buying decisions, but the fact is that this phenomenon was not significant to be given consideration until the late 20th century when it was found that through parent/child relationship in Western societies, marketers have got a loophole so sell their products to children. Based on this, it has been the opinion that this problem if remain undressed will lead to false needs and encourages the nature of consumerism to the children. So the above information has lead to the identification of the following research problem: The effect of advertising to children in Midlands, UK
This research study will try to test the following hypothesis in regards to the impacts of advertisement on children residing in the Midlands, UK.
The first hypothesis of the research study is that the advertising affects commercial recall and product preferences of children residing in Midlands, UK significantly. It had been estimated that U.S. television advertising directed to children cost over 1.5 billion USD during 2000-2001 (Crowe, 2003). McNeal (2002) estimated that children under 14 years spent 25 billion USD in direct purchases and influenced family spending by another 190 billion USD in 2000. Obviously, the marketers would not like to make such a huge investment if their advertisements don’t make any impact on children. The second hypothesis of this research study is that exposure to advertising result in consumption of products that are harmful to the health and well-being of children residing in Midlands, UK. Existing research studies have shown that advertising to children have effected over consumption of non-nutritional products such as sugared cereals, candy, snacks or in underage drinking of alcoholic beverages and tobacco related products which are ultimately linked to obesity and poorer health. Similarly, earlier studies, for example, have found significant evidence of parent–child conflicts occurring during purchase of products requested by children in supermarkets (Brian, 2004). The third and final hypothesis of this research study is that exposure to advertising result in various other harmful affects to children of Midlands, UK such as positive attitude toward consumption of alcohol and tobacco related products and aggressive behavior of children influenced by violent media offering. Research studies have found that children of younger age generally get attracted to commercial advertising of tobacco and alcoholic products (e.g., Joe Camel, the Budweiser frogs) and consequently develop high brand awareness of such products and positive attitudes toward them (Kunkel, 2004). Even the spokes-characters of these products have been found to be featured in various magazines and television programs frequently viewed by minors. Similarly, existence of advertising of violent media, such as movies and video games targeting children do affect children’s media preferences.
1.3 Research Methodology
This study shall use both qualitative and quantitative methods in analyzing the research question posed in the above section.
The qualitative aspect of this research will focus on the secondary analysis of data. During the initial part of the research, available literature collected from various articles, websites, journals and other documents pertaining to research on affect of advertisement on children in regards to the purchasing of advertised product. The analysis will focus on studies made on in this context and will try to gather all the research findings till now in this respect. For the quantitative analysis, the research will take help of published surveys and interviews conducted to understand the impact of advertisement on children in UK and other countries and will gather insights about the hypothesis posed in the initial part of this research. Further a survey will be conducted for the residents of Midlands, UK to gather primary insights regarding the key questions of this research study and would help testing the hypothesis and come to a conclusion in the later part of the research.
1.4 Outline of the report
The report is divided into five different chapters. As clearly seen, the first chapter of this report introduces the research question and outlines the path towards the research conclusion.; looking into the background to the research, the research problem, hypothesis development, justification for the research methodology, outline of the report, and definitions of key terms used in the dissertation. The second chapter of the dissertation is dedicated for the literature review of the research topic. Here the discussion related to available literature on the impact of advertisement on general public in UK and specifically on their children observed by various researchers during various studies conducted till now. Chapter three of the dissertation is dedicated to the discussion of the methodology: the justification for using such, research approach, the data collection and analysis tools and techniques and the limitations of such research design. The next chapter will analyze the patterns of data gathered till now using various methodologies as described in the methodology chapter and will test the gathered results against the proposed hypothesis to reach to a research conclusion. The last but not the least important chapter, Conclusion would try to summarize the findings about the research topic, the various conclusions and implications of those and would highlight the important aspects requiring further research.
- Literature Review
Until recently, social questions about advertising to children have been addressed primarily in the context of concern about the ability of television in general to influence and manipulate children.. However, both academic and industry investigators have been accumulating more fundamental knowledge about this important consumer group for many years. Academic research has developed insights ranging from how children develop product understandings (Roedder John & Sujan, 1990), to the impacts of advertising on attitude and behaviour of children (Macklin 1996) . Industry research over the past several decades has investigated how best to reach children and what products, brands, and advertising messages will appeal to them (McNeal 1992). These investigations have fallen into predominantly three areas: the impact of technology, whether the influence of advertising should be allowed to exert on children in a market-driven culture, and how we as a society should protect them from those who would exploit them.
2.2 Discussion on existing literature on research issues:
Issue 1: Children’s product purchase preference and commercial recalls
There is consistent evidence, based on verbal report, that younger children who do not understand the persuasive intent of commercials are more likely to perceive them as truthful messages, whereas other children who can discern persuasive intent tend to express sceptical, less accepting attitude towards commercials (Robbertson & Rossiter, 1994). In addition, various investigations of the influence of television advertising on children’s purchase requests have revealed that younger children express higher levels of purchase requests for certain advertising products than older viewers (Atkin, 1975; Ward & Wackman, 1987). Robertson and Rossiter found, for example that more than half of the first grades interviewed “wanted every toy or game they saw advertised on television” as compared with only 6 percent of the fifth grade children. Observing that older children have a better understanding of the persuasive intent of commercials, these researchers concluded that “the development of persuasive-intent attributes act as a cognitive defence to persuasion”. This is not to say, of course, that the commercials do not influence purchase or purchase requests. The economic realities of commercial broadcasting offer clear evidence that commercial can sell products to viewers even when their sales intent is clearly understood.
There has been a number studies examining the commercial recall of advertisement by children from a variety of perspectives. Two studies which have directly found the link between children’s response to premium offers in television commercials (Rose et. Al, 1993) exposed children to cereal commercials embedded in programming and then immediately measured the verbal response of the children. Both studies also involved exposure to a single test commercial as opposed to the repetitive exposure which would occur in the course of normal television viewing. In Rubin’s (1982) study, 1st, 3rd and 6th grade children were exposed to a 30 second commercial either with or without a premium offer. Immediately after exposure, they were asked a series of questions about the commercial – what they recalled, what they felt with the product, what they were supposed to do with the product etc. Most of the children provided some answers to those questions. It was observed that children from 1st grade to 6th grade student have some sort of recall of the commercials relating to toy car after the commercial. The product symbol was accurately recalled by a high percentage of all of the children. It is interesting to note that all of the 6th grade students actually recalled the symbol in the no-premium condition.
In one study, where the researchers found that almost half of the children making cereal requests to their parents in supermarket were influenced by premium offers (Atkin, 1978). Another study found that advertisements offering premiums had more persuasive effect on the children than commercials featuring popular program characters (Miller & Busch, 1979). Etemma’s research findings on commercial recall also came out similar to Rubin’s study. The young children demonstrated the best recall in the commercial which comprised 10-second premium offer and 20-second product information. The 1983 Wartella and Lttema study also assessed specific information about recollection of products after children were exposed to commercials advertisements of those products. In an another study done by Zuckerman, measurement on recall of advertisements immediately following viewing found that, more than half of the children under investigation preferred to remember an ad for such products as toys, cereals, and ice cream even when each ad is shown just once during a television program (Gorn & Goldberg, 1977, 1980; Zuckerman, Ziegler, & Stevenson, 1978). In an another study, when the children under experiment were asked about the source of their product knowledge about some specific toys, they would like to have, most of the children identified television commercials as the source (Caron & Ward, 1975; Donahue, 1975), a finding which resembled with parental reports (Barry & Sheikh, 1977; Isler, Popper, & Ward, 1987).
Evidence suggests that children’s preferences over a particular product brand can be manipulated by exposure to a single commercial (Goldberg, Gorn, & Gibson, 1978), however stronger effects such as increased desire for the advertised product, increased preference for the advertised brand over other competing brands occur when the children are exposure to the commercials repetitively (Gorn & Goldberg, 1982; Robertson & Rossiter, 1977). One of the interesting findings from research studies on children’s recall capability is that though a child’s recall of a commercial generally decays quickly over time, positive attitudes toward the product being advertised still remains with the child for more than a week after the advertisement has been forgotten by the child (Silverman, Jaccard, & Burke, 1988).
To understand the direct impact of advertising on children’s preference for a product purchase, experimental studies have been performed in various geographic regions to compare children who are shown a particular product advertisement with those who are not and results of those studies provided good evidences of advertising having a significant impact on a child’s product purchase preference. During the experiments, it was observed that more than half of the children under experiment spontaneously reported strong desire for a given toy or ice cream after getting exposed to the advertisement of the product and such increase in children’s desire for the advertised product is statistically significant (Atkin & Gibson, 1978; Stoneman & Brody, 1981). Literature suggests that advertisers have tried to use various strategies to enhance the effectiveness of advertising appeals to children. Particularly in USA, celebrities and characters have been used extensively while molding children’s views about an advertised product. Experimental studies presenting virtually identical versions of advertisements to children, one with and one without a celebrity endorser, showed that popular figures significantly enhanced children’s preference for the particular advertised product (Atkin & Block, 1983; Ross et al., 1984).
Issue 2: Parent–Child Conflict and unhealthy eating habits
General observation says that it is always not possible for parents to honor all purchasing requests made by their children under the influence of television advertising, given the enormous number of commercials that an average child witnesses. Atkin (1975) during one of his studies recorded conflict and disappointment over parental denials of cereal requests. In the instances of denial, conflict occurred in 65 percent of the cases and unhappiness resulted in 48 percent of the time. It has been observed in the study that tendency for conflict and unhappiness is highest among 6-8 years old. In another study, Atkin (1975) found that more than sixty percent of children under experiment argued or became angry when a toy request was denied by their parents in a supermarket. Other studies made in countries such Australia, New Zealand and France have confirmed these patterns (Goldberg & Gorn, 1978). However Atkins notes that “conflict is seldom intense or persistent. Displays of child anger or sadness are also short-lived in most cases”
A limited number of research has been done to understand the extent to which advertisements develop materialistic values within the children and whether it contributes to psychological good or ill. Observations suggest that degree of advertising exposure correlates positively with children’s acceptance of materialism. Adler et al. (1980) in one of his studies found stronger materialistic values among fourth to seventh graders who were exposed to television advertisements significantly.
The impact of advertisements on children’s eating habits has attracted a whopping number of research studies in last few decades. Advertisement for products such as chocolates, ice creams, snacks, and fast food are mainstays of the advertising targeting children. The advertisements of such products have been observed as typically effective in persuading children to prefer and request purchasing of those products (Borzekowski & Robinson, 2001; Galst & White, 1976; Goldberg, Gorn, & Gibson, 1978; Taras, Sallis, Patterson, Nader, & Nelson, 1989). During a study done by Gorn and Goldberg (1982), advertisements were shown to 5- to 8-year-old children at a 2-week long camp as part of an experiment. The results showed that some children saw advertisements for fruit and fruit juice, while others viewed advertisements for sugar-sweetened drinks. The finding suggested that children’s actual food and drink choices were significantly influenced by the advertisements they viewed in the camp. A serious concern raised by various studies pertains to the fact that advertisements for chocolates, snacks, and sugared cereals far outnumber commercials for more healthy or nutritious food (Atkin & Heald, 1977; Barcus, 1980; Kunkel & Gantz, 1992). One of the recent studies suggested that the influence of an advertisement for healthy foods gets completely overshadowed when an advertisements for snack foods is shown immediately afterward (Cantor, 1981). The general finding that eating habits formed during childhood often persist throughout life underpins the serious concern mentioned above (Jacobson & Maxwell, 1994). Studies have also suggested a close link between a drastic increase in childhood obesity and the emergence of advertising of unhealthy foods to children particularly in the western world (Dietz, 1990; Horgen, Choate, & Brownell, 2001; Troiano & Flegal, 1998).
Evidence of children’s request for advertised foods and their parent’s yielding to these requests was presented in a national industry supported survey in 1988 for 6-14 yrs old children in USA. (Gene Reilly Grp, 1990). For the 20 product categories (specifically non-nutritional foods such as candy, gum, chocolate, cookies etc), at least 75 percent of the mothers who purchased those products said that they were significantly influenced in brand and product selection by their children’s request. In another study funded by Gene Group, it was found that children demonstrated high awareness of nationally advertised brand names of products such as ready-to-eat snacks.
Issue 3: Positive attitudes toward Tobacco and Alcohol Consumption and marketing of violent media to children
Tobacco consumption by underage people can be considered as the single most important public health issue of this era (Tuakli, Smith & Heaton, 1990). Everyday in the United States, 3000 children and teenagers under the age of 18 years begin smoking (Light 1996). According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), at least 1000 of those children and teens will die eventually from a tobacco-related disease. Children and adolescents are the only group that continues to take up smoking in large numbers, causing the FDA to define smoking as a “pediatric disease”. (Light 1996; Tuakli, Smith & Heaton Heaton, 1990).
As they age, adolescents depend increasingly on advertising as an information source (Assael 1992), and there is justifiable concern about the marketing appeals, particularly those relating to cigarettes and alcohol products, to which adolescents are exposed. Children and young people are particularly susceptible to image-based advertising, which is used extensively in the advertising of alcohol and tobacco products (Strasburger, 1995). The advertisers of cigarette and alcoholic products came under scrutiny in a number of research studies in recent decades. The tobacco unit of R.J.Reynolds, responsible for marketing Camel cigarettes, came under scrutiny after it got accused of deliberately developing cartoon character Joe Camel as a spokesperson for the brand to stimulate interest in smoking among adolescents (DesRoches, 1994). Although the campaign proved to be very successful among young people ( teenage market grew from .5% to .13% over 5 yrs as per UD Dept. of Health), the recognizability of the cartoon character among very young children has fuelled controversy about the advertising of tobacco products in general ( Fischer, 1989; Pollay, 1996). Phillip Morris also similarly got criticized recently for its introduction of “Woman Thing Music” in a promotion consisting of a new recording label featuring female vocalists who are particularly popular among female teenagers. Subsequent studies have linked a large increase in smoking among teenage girls to the campaign (Pierce, Lee, Gilpin 1994).
Controversy also surrounds the marketing of alcoholic products. Alcoholic product manufacturers have been accused of advertising in media whose audience consists largely of underage consumers. Anheuser-Busch and subsequently Miller Brewing Company (Fischer, 1997), ceased advertising on the MTV network after the Federal Trade Commission(FTC) launched an investigation into the airing of a Schlitz Malt Liquor commercial during MTV programming targeted to teens (Ross, 1996). A sampling of MTV programming revealed several violations of beer industry’s own marketing code, which states that – “beer commercials should not be placed in a show whose audience consists mostly of underage viewers” (Ross 1996). Similar concerns have been raised about print media in recent studies. “Spin” magazine, a popular magazine in US has 30% of its readers under the age of 18, and 50% are under the age of 21, however research studies have shown that the magazines such as this are filled with liquor advertisements despite insistence by industry spokesperson that they only target people from 21 to 35 age range (Ross, 1997). Although the alcohol and tobacco industries publicly maintain that they do not advertise or promote their products to children or adolescents, research studies have shown number of evidences that strongly suggest that youth are both exposed to and influenced by advertisements for tobacco and alcohol products (Grube, 1995).
The types of violence employed in commercials to children have come under the investigation of various researchers in recent past. There is evidence from one study that children as young as 4 years can distinguish between make-believe violence and real life violence (Bushman & Huesmann, 2001). Research studies have confirmed that exposure to media violence encourages aggressive behaviors, increased hostility, more accepting attitude toward violence, and other antisocial outcomes among the youth (Anderson & Bushman, 2001; Bushman & Anderson, 2001; Bushman & Huesmann, 2001; Paik & Comstock, 1994). Few other research studies have documented evidences of the association between exposure to media violence and anxieties, trauma, and sleeping disorders among the adolescents (Cantor, 1998; Harrison & Cantor, 1999; Owens, Maxim, McGuinn, Nobile, Msall, & Alario, 1999; Singer, Slovak, Fisher, & York, 1998). Although it should be noted that the media industry in general have established firm policies to include warnings or ratings to inform parents of potentially harmful content in any television program, cinema, electronic game, music album and so on, however the successful implementation of those policies gets undermined when content labeled as appropriate for mature audiences is observed to be actively marketed and advertised to younger audiences. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report in recent decade studied the marketing of violent PG-13 rated movies, and found that a significant number of advertisements were placed in programming blocks popular with children under 11 years old. Evidences showed that some advertisers have established tie-ins with Fast-food and toy companies to promote PG-13 movies to younger children (Fisher, 1998).
The key question which has been raised in various studies is whether different degrees of fantasy in various forms of television violence make any difference in terms of affecting their attitude and behavior – particularly in terms of imitating aggression observed in the program or commercial following the viewing. This question is especially important for evaluating the affects of children’s commercials. There is evidence that fantasy violence, as well as portrayals of real-life violence can instigate or energize aggressive responses (e,g. interpersonal assault during child’s play). However research studies have also noted the fact that the type of violence used in children’s commercial are rarely imitable and the duration of the violence is too short to suggest that commercials could have an instigational effect on the viewers.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s advertisements were blamed for reinforcing a social status quo in which ethnic groups were negatively stereotyped, women were sex objects or servants and a consumerist ethic threatened to trivialize social problems. Questions were raised about the effects of all this imagery on children, resulting in scrutiny of the commerce underlying the new technology. Critics questioned the products that advertisers were selling (Barbie and G.I. Joe), the way the messages were delivered (via Saturday morning programms for children), and scrutinizing who was endorsing these approaches to children (manufacturers or special interest group) (Palmer, 2004). The advent of internet and cable television added to the concern about their influence on our society and our children.
However it should be noted that, there has been little methodological variation observed in the research on advertising and children. Most studies deploy rather conventional experimental and survey research methods. These efforts have provided many important insights, but the one-shot approach should be complemented by research that allows us to observe the ways in which advertising persuades children over time and across different contexts. Moreover, there hasn’t been any study on the inhabitants of Midlands, UK to validate the established perception about affect of advertising to children. It is a high time to begin a research study to validate the hypothesis formed in the initial part of this study within the geographical areas of Midlands, UK.
- Research Methodology
3.1 Research Approach
The research approach for this study is composed of both qualitative and quantitative methodologies with high importance given to the quantitative aspects of the overall research analysis. The quantitative research methods are designed to ensure objectivity, generalizability and reliability. The strengths of these methods are: reliable data are usually generalizable to larger population, most appropriate for conducting needs assessments or for evaluations comparing outcomes with baseline data, all aspects of the study are carefully designed before data is collected and produce quantifiable. The weaknesses of such approach are: it ignores the effects of variables that have not been included in the model. Moreover quantitative approach de contextualizes human behavior in a way that removes the event from its real world. The qualitative aspect of this research shall remain completely focused on the secondary analysis of data which has been made in writing the second chapter wherein existing literature has been reviewed to look into the several hypotheses raised in the initial chapters of this dissertation.
In this initial part of the research process, the study shall use several articles, websites, journals and other documents that pertain to the impact of advertisement in general with specific attention to the children residing in UK in regards to the purchasing of advertised products . The research will present the information and with this, draft the survey questionnaire for the next part of the research.
Survey questionnaires that have been deployed for research have two specific objectives. One is to quantitatively depict certain facets of the group being investigated. The analysis of the questionnaires may be mainly focused on associations between variables or with making estimates in a descriptive manner to a well defined group of respondents. Next, it is also an effective means of gathering data by soliciting individual evaluations through predetermined items or questions. Their responses, which may pertain to their own views, compose the data set subject for statistical analysis (Salkind, 2000).
The questionnaire has been self-constructed, dealing with evaluations of several items related to the perceived importance of advertisement and their impact on children in general. After distributing the questionnaire to its respondents, the researcher shall analyze the data and compare it with the literature reviewed in the first part of the study. It is through this that the researcher shall be able to look at the perceptions of both the general public and the scholars with regard to the impact of advertisement on children.
The researcher may or may not interview the subjects of the study. An interview essentially is a structured social interaction happening with a researcher and a subject that has been evaluated to contain vital information relevant to the research. The objective is to obtain quantifiable and analogous information that would prove or disprove the study being hypothesized (Becker 1996). Essentially, in any study it is important and highly critical to validate the results of a particular research tool by using another research tool to confirm the results of the first research tool used for the study.
3.2 Justification for the methodology
In a study which is significantly quantitative in nature, the researcher intends to gather data so that a valid conclusion may be arrived at regarding the outcomes of broadly comparable experiences. An objective or positivist approach is adopted by those who utilize this design (Cohen & Manion, 1994), which is applicable in this paper. The main principle underlying this approach is that knowledge and facts are measurable and that complicated problems may be comprehended more effectively if they are broken down into less complicated pats (Easterby-Smith et al, 1996). Moreover, this approach becomes more potent in the quest for universal laws which explain reality – and which lend themselves to observation (Burrell & Morgan, 1979). The quantitative approach has several advantages – among them is the fact that they have clearer boundaries with regard to data gathering. While it is an advantage in itself, it does not come without weaknesses. For this approach to yield valid conclusions, the tool that is used for data gathering has to have acceptable psychometric properties. The construction of the research tool must be subjected to rigor and careful analysis (Reason & Rowen, 1981). One other limitation for quantitative methods is the need to use a substantially large sample to be able to garner more valid results (Easterby-Smith et al, 1996).
According to Fay (1996), qualitative researchers attempt to accurately describe, decode and interpret the precise meanings of a certain phenomenon to a person or group of people. In a qualitative study, the research is based on the interpretative paradigm. According to Saunders et al. (2003) interpretive research is a broader term than qualitative research and it encompasses all other approaches based on participant observation such as ethnographic, qualitative, phenomenological, constructivist, and case studies. Second, interpretive research does not carry with it the false connotation of excluding the use of quantitative measures. The focus lies at the different constructions and meanings people place upon their own experiences and the reasons for those differences. As compared to quantitative research, the qualitative method of analysis relies on the fundamental reasons behind the reactions of people when external factors are applied to a given situation. Simply put, it investigates the why and how of decision making, relative to what is being identified by the quantitative method of analysis – what, where, and when (Denzin & Lincoln 2000). Qualitative research also identifies and sorts data into relevant and helpful patterns as the foundation for organization and the basis for reporting the kind of results for data. In case of this study a combination of quantitative and qualitative method will be used to find out the impacts of advertisement for various products on children residing in UK.
3.3 Data collection and analytical tools/techniques
The main objective of the data collection is to gather information in relation to the various hypothesis developed in the initial part of this research study on the impact of advertisements of products on children residing in the UK and analyze those gathered data using statistical tools and techniques to come to a decisive conclusion about the research question posed in the early part of the research. As mentioned earlier, the research mainly uses quantitative data which will be collected through internet based online survey questionnaire sent to general people from various demographics, age, income level, and location in and around Midlands, UK. The questionnaire created contains two separate sections having 15 multiple choice questions with space for comments. The first section of the questionnaire is dedicated to the demographic information while the second section of the questionnaire is dedicated to the hypothesis questions. The purpose of such questionnaire design is to extract the expected results by avoiding time loss and give them an opportunity to voice their opinion if they want to. The collected response is then analyzed using Microsoft Excel software to create appropriate charts, graphs, tables etc to draw conclusive statements from the analysis.
3.4 Limitations of research design
The sampling approach used in this study is a random one where 250 participants residing in Midlands, UK were chosen randomly and were subjected to qualification criteria for the survey. Although the size of the sample is quite big, still it may not cover all the variations of the measured parameters and may distort the overall findings to some extent. Also the randomness makes it less applicable to larger population set or geographic area. However this is a cost effective method which provides significant information which ultimately helps in testing the formulated hypothesis and drawing conclusion about the research topic. Also due to the time constrain, the response to the questionnaire gather may not be comprehensive one. So the number of questionnaire as well as the diversity of respondents might have an impact on the final results of this research.
- Analysis of Data
In this section of the research study we will be discussion about various results gathered through survey questionnaire and analyze those results gathered for each part of the questionnaire using software tools such as Microsoft Excel. As mentioned earlier, the survey questionnaire for this research have been designed with the intention to gather primary data regarding our assumptions around three key hypothesis explained in the initial part of the dissertation. The results of the survey will help us to test those hypothesis mentioned at the beginning of the research study and will help prove or disapprove the results of earlier studies in the context of UK Midlands population.
4.2 Results gathered
The survey questionnaire designed with the purpose of collecting primary data from the inhabitants of Midlands, United Kingdom was distributed across various sections of people with different gender, age, sex, income level, number of children, race, location and so on. The target population for the research study has been reached through face-to-face interviews, e-mails, internet surveys, word of mouth and social sites such as Facebook. The research study survey questionnaires were distributed to 350 participants across Midlands, United Kingdom and around 300 out of 350 participants have responded back with valid and complete answers for each section of the questionnaire.
The participants of the survey were 43% (130) female and 57% (170) male out of the total 300 respondents for the survey (Appendix 1.1). The participants of the survey questionnaire had different marital status – 28% of the participants being in single status, 45% being in married status, 16% being in the divorced status, 9% being in the cohabitating status and the remaining 2% being in widowed stats (appendix 1.2). 70% of the survey participants had at least one child and the remaining 30% of the survey participant did not have any child. The participants having children had one to multiple numbers of children. 9% of the participants having at least one child had more than three children, while 15%, 36% and 40% of the participants having at least one child had three children, two children and one child respectively (Appendix 1.3). The participants of the survey questionnaire also came from various income levels. 34% of the participants being within the income level of 10,000 GBP per annum, 31% of the participants being within 10,000 to 20,000 GBP per annum, 19% of the participants being within the income level of 20,000 to 40,000 GBP per annum and the remaining 16% of the participants having income level more than 40,000 per annum (Appendix 1.4).
The next part of the survey questionnaire is focused on some key information regarding the purchasing habits of the parents in the Midlands, United Kingdom. The intention of those questions were to gather some idea about the importance of children’s preference and frequency of such shopping where the purchasing of product is done for the children.
The last section of the questionnaire is devoted to the questions pertaining to our hypothesis established in the earlier part of the dissertation. In the following section we will discuss all those responses which will help us to test those hypotheses after analysis the results of the survey for the remaining sections of the questionnaire.
4.3 Analysis of results
In this section of the research study, we will analyze the responses received from the survey questionnaire from the inhabitants of Midlands, United Kingdom which directly relate to the hypotheses made during the early part of the research study. To get an idea about the frequency of shopping by the participants of the survey questionnaire, the survey asked the participants to indicate their shopping habits. The analysis of the results shows that there is a significant portion of the participant prefers to do shopping once in a week or a month. The survey results (Fig 1) shows that about 35% of the respondents
prefer to shop weekly and around 29% of the respondents prefer to shop once in a month. Where as only 13% of the respondents prefer to shop everyday and 17% of the respondents do it on Bi-weekly basis. So it can be stated that the survey respondents represent adults with various shopping habits and can be generalized over a much broader population base of United Kingdom.
The next couple of questionnaires were designed with the intention to understand people’s behavior in regard to giving preference to their children while shopping and the frequency of such activity in general. The result of the survey (Fig. 2) questionnaire shows that there exist a whopping percentage of respondents who give medium to high consideration to the choices of their children while shopping products for their children. 60% of the respondents believe that they impart high attention to the requests made by their offspring while they go out for purchasing some products or services for their children where the only source of knowledge about the products for the children is through advertisements. The remaining 40% of the respondents are split into two equal parts – medium level of attention and low level of attention to the requests made by their offspring while they go out for purchasing some products or services for their children. The results not only proves that children are the center of attention and the main influencing factor behind the choice of products during the purchase made by their parents but also confirms the earlier research study results done in various parts of USA and other European countries in the similar context. When the survey respondents were asked as how often they purchase products or services for their offspring specifically on their offspring’s request, almost 60% of the respondents (42% for weekly and 15% for daily shopping) replied back saying that they do shopping at least once in a week for their offspring specifically on their offspring’s request (fig. 3), which again validates the results of earlier studies in other geographic regions of the world.
An 18% and 14% of the respondents prefer to purchase products for their children based on their request on a bi-weekly and monthly basis respectively.
The next set of questionnaires was designed to gather views from the survey respondents of the research study to validate the hypothesis regarding affect of advertising on children in general. When the respondents were asked to provide their views on the statement – “Advertising affects children’s commercial recall and product preferences”, a 35% of the respondents strongly agreed to the statement and 43% of the respondents came out agreeing to the above mentioned statement (fig. 4). 5% of the respondents disagreed to the statement whereas 17% of the respondents preferred to remain neutral on this occasion. The results confirms the fact that according to the surveyed parents, children tend to remember an advertisement for products such as ice cream, toys, cereals, chocolates etc after they see the advertisements for such products either through television commercials sponsored by the manufacturers or retailers or other media advertisements such as radio, internet, news paper and so on. Although it is not clear at this moment as how much of this recall of commercial and products preferences expressed by the children ultimately results in purchasing of those products by their parents, however it can be stated that such recall and product preferences do have significant impact on the purchasing decisions made by the parents of the children.
The next question posed to the survey respondent asked about their view on the idea that advertising brings parent-child conflict during children’s product purchase requests that were influenced by advertising. A whopping 52% of the respondent agreed strongly to the above mentioned view and another 34% of the respondent expressed their agreement with the view (fig. 5).
There was a little disagreement (only 2% of the respondent) from the respondents with the above mentioned view implying the fact that there is a general consensus among the inhabitants of Midlands, United Kingdom about the influential impact of advertisements of products on the parent-child conflict during children’s product purchase. Given that almost 60% of the respondents prefer to shop at least once in a week for purchasing products for their children specifically on requests made by their children makes us
believe that such frequent purchase requests associated with children’s recall of commercials and preference for products place significant strain on parent-child relationship. Further as 40% of the respondents being less dependent on children’s preference for products purchasing decisions (appendix 1.3), there exist substantial potential for parent-child conflict during the purchase of advertised products in the market by the parents.
In regards to impact of advertisements on children’s preference of food products, the results of the survey reflect a more balanced view among the survey participants (fig. 6). While 33% of the respondents strongly agreed to the view that Advertising directly targeted toward the children increases their consumption of non nutritious foods such as candy, fast foods and snacks, 42% of the respondents showed general agreement with the above mentioned view. 7% of the respondents preferred to disagree with the view and 18% of the respondents preferred to remain neutral in this occasion. The response to this question should be analysed keeping in mind that many parents consider the occasional consumption of sugared cereal, chocolates, and desserts not to be harmful and the consumption becomes harmful only when such non nutritious foods are eaten regularly and supplant nutritional foods in the child’s diet. The majority of the respondents do believe that the advertisements for food related products do impact the consumption level of non nutritious products by their children which also resembles with the general view in other geographic regions of the world.
The next question of the survey asked the respondents to express their view about the impact of advertisement on the consumption of alcohol and tobacco products by their children (fig. 7). 36% of the respondents strongly agreed to the view that advertising of alcohol and tobacco related product to children brings positive attitude toward consumption of such products while 26% of the respondents agreed to some extent with the above view. 20% of the respondents preferred to disagree with the above view and 18% of the respondents preferred to remain neutral while answering their view.
The results related to the response on the above view suggest that if not all, a major portion of the respondents agreed with the general view observed in other countries of the world that advertisements to children on alcoholic and tobacco related products influence their level of consumption by the children and we are in a era of great concern about adolescents’ use of cigarettes and alcohol, and the way those products are marketed to the children through TV commercials and other mediums of advertisements.
In response to the survey question about the role of advertisements to children in promoting aggressive behavior, increased hostility, and other antisocial outcomes to the children, 40% and 32% of the respondents strongly agreed and agreed to some extent respectively with the view that prevalence of advertising of violent media, such as movies and video games, targeting children promotes aggressive behaviors, increased hostility, and other antisocial outcomes to the children (fig. 8). Although 13% of the respondents preferred to disagree with the above mentioned view and 15% of the respondents preferred to remain silent on this occasion, again there exists a major concern among the inhabitants of Midlands, United Kingdom about the harmful affects of advertising to children through vehement media promotes sadistic behavior among children. This result is also in line with the research study results published by various psychologists demonstrating the harmful effects of exposure to media violence over a number of decades.
The last section of the questionnaire was designed to gather some views about the preventive measures around harmful effects of advertising. The participants of the survey were given four options to respond to – imposition of stricter regulation, media literacy initiative, ban on the advertisement for children and any other suggestion. 40% of the respondents were in the view that harmful effects of advertising to children can be minimized through appropriate media literacy initiatives (fig. 9). 26% of the respondents believed that a ban on the advertisements targeting children would help minimizing or completely eliminating the damaging affects of advertising. 19% of the respondent suggested for an imposition of stricter regulation on advertising targeted toward children. 15% of the respondent preferred to suggest other means to restrict the detrimental impact of advertising targeted towards children.
Some participant suggested for bringing some time restrictions on the advertisement commercials broadcasted in televisions and other live media targeted toward children. Some felt that parents should take more responsibility in monitoring closely the behaviors and habits of their children and taking appropriate measures to prevent or minimize the damaging affect of advertisement targeting children. It is up to the parents to discipline and teach children what is right and what is wrong explain to children what and why something is happening. Many expressed the view that the life of parents would have been much easier had there been no advertisements for products such as toys, candy, and confectionery deliberately targeting children. A few participants suggested some drastic step to be taken by the government to prevent the harmful affects of children such as stopping advertisement in television until 11.00 PM, allowing advertisements to only adult channels, banning any children act in the advertisements etc. The participants who suggested the above mentioned drastic steps believed that government should try as many as steps possible to find a working solution to the problem before it goes beyond control. A number of participants believed that the nature and level of aggression shown in some of the advertisements for products are unnecessary and should be restricted. They believed that such kind of violent advertisements have detrimental reactions to child’s behavior and those advertisements should be censored properly before allowing it to be broadcasted to the viewers. A few of the survey participants even expressed views on completely banning advertisement for children as they believed that children do not need advertisement and should be allowed to gather knowledge through other means such as school education, sports etc. It can be stated that almost every participant of the survey felt the need for some kind of preventive actions against the advertisement targeting children and expressed a number of possible routes for consideration. The participants appreciate the fact that Children below certain age years tend to accept commercial claims and appeals made by the marketers as truthful and accurate because they fail to comprehend the advertiser’s motive to inflate and embroider the attractiveness of a particular product. However it should be mentioned here that participants also appreciated the fact that only implementing a policy as suggested above would not help resolving all the concerns about advertising to children and so it requires an integrated effort from all quarters of the population to prevent the harmful affect of advertisement to children. The participants were confident that the ingenuity of both the television and other media industry leaders and the nation’s public policymakers is capable of resolving any critical implementation challenges in successful fashion.
The responses to our survey questions from a sizeable number of participants from the Midlands area of United Kingdom helped us analyzing the views of adult population of this geographic region about the impacts of advertisement to children and validate our hypothesis established at the beginning of the research study. The analysis of the results further helped in coming up with suggests about future areas of study to gain better understanding of the subject concerned.
- Conclusions and implications:
The affect advertising to preschool and elementary school-aged children has attracted huge attention in recent times due to the immediate product-persuasion effects and cumulative types of influences that accumulate from exposure to large numbers of advertisement commercials over time (Brian, 2004). However concerns have been raised about the outcomes of such advertisements sponsored by the marketers targeting children as research evidence from various geographic regions suggested existence of negative impacts such as attractiveness toward non-nutritional products, parent–child conflicts, positive attitude toward consumption of alcohol and tobacco related products and aggressive behaviors from the children. This research study formulates a set of hypothesis based on the various researches done previously on the impact of advertisement to children in other geographic regions and tests those hypotheses by analysis primary and secondary data collected during the research study. The following section concludes on the finding gathered through analysis of research results and makes suggestions for future areas of study.
5.2 Conclusions about the research issues or hypotheses:
In the beginning of this research study, three research question or hypotheses have been posed and the objective of the study was to validate those hypotheses in the context of inhabitants of Midlands, UK. The review of various research studies done previously to understand the impact of advertisement to children in other geographic locations in the literature review part of this research study and the analysis of primary data gathered through survey questionnaire in the earlier section will be used to draw conclusions about the hypotheses of this research study in the following paragraphs.
The existing literature from the advertiser’s perspective confirmed the fact that the ultimate intention of the marketers airing a commercial advertisement is to sell the product to the targeted viewers. Studies done by Atkin (1978) and Galst and White (1976) found that amount of television viewing could be considered as a significant predictor of the frequency of children’s product-purchase requests to their parents at the supermarket. In another study done in USA in late 70s, it was found that seventy five percent of products purchased by parents were a result of request from their child for purchase after the child got exposed to advertisement of the particular products. This pattern has been observed in other countries such as Japan, Australia, France etc and a positive relationship have been observed between children’s amount of exposure to television advertisements and their product-purchase requests (Dale, 2004). The results obtained through the survey questionnaire also suggest similar view for the population of Midlands, UK. A majority of the respondents have agreed to the fact that the advertising affects children’s commercial recall and product preferences significantly. Therefore it can be concluded that the first hypothesis about children’s commercial recall and product preference is true and valid for Midlands, UK as well. In sum, it can be stated that commercial advertisements targeted at children are highly effective at accomplishing their intended goal of promoting product sales.
The literature review on advertising to children has supported the fact that “an important side effect of the influence of advertising on children’s desire for product purchase is the parent–child conflict” (Robertson, 1979). Such types of behaviors have been observed to emerge when refusals occur in response to children’s purchase-influence attempts. Another study done by Atkin (1978) in some part of eastern USA, finds high rates of child disappointment and anger in response to the majority of parent refusals for cereal requests at the supermarket. Other studies by Goldberg & Gorn (1978) and Sheikh & Moleski, (1977) have also confirmed similar behavior in few European countries as well. The analysis of responses gathered through survey questionnaire confirms similar pattern in the Midlands, UK. A significant portion of the respondents agreed to the view that advertising to children causes’ parent-child conflict during the purchase of products demanded by child.
The other general finding of literature review is that that eating habits of children is significantly influenced by advertisements of food products to children (Jacobson & Maxwell, 1994). Previous research studies done on the population of USA and UK have linked the dramatic increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity to the emergence of the advertising of unhealthy foods to children (Dietz, 1990; Horgen, Choate, & Brownell, 2001; Troiano & Flegal, 1998). The analysis of results obtained from survey questionnaire resembles completely with the above findings. So it can be concluded that the hypothesis on influence of advertisements to children on their eating habits and parent-child conflict stands valid for population of Midlands, UK.
Previous research studies have supported the fact that both alcohol and tobacco are considered as detrimental to the health of children in general. In some countries such as USA, the sale of both types of products to children and adolescents is considered as illegal. The literature reviews on both experimental research and longitudinal studies have also suggested that advertising plays a role in youth smoking and alcohol consumption (Atkin, 1995; Strasburger, 2001). The analysis of responses from the survey participants acknowledges the above mentioned concern and majority of respondents believe it as one of the harmful affects of advertising to children. The literature review of research studies done on impact of media offerings to children in USA revealed that the majority of violent media offerings with mature ratings (Recordings with Parental Advisory labels, R-rated movies, and M-rated electronic games) contained marketing plans that explicitly targeted children who, according to the rating or label, “were too young to see, hear, or play them”(Atkin, 2001; Brown, 2002). The above mentioned concern is also shared by the respondents of the survey questionnaire of this study and almost all of the participants felt a need for imposing restrictions on those kinds of advertisements and games. Therefore it can be concluded that the hypothesis regarding the harmful effect of advertising to children such as positive attitude toward consumption of alcohol and tobacco related products and aggressive behavior of children influenced by violent media offering holds good in Midland, UK as well.
Preventing action on harmful affects
Existing research studies on media literacy campaign have explored the potential for thwarting some of the media’s undesirable influences by increasing children’s critical viewing skills through media literacy training (Brown, 1991; 2001). Media literacy programs are generally designed with the intention to teach children about many fundamental aspects of the advertising industry, including the fundamental business knowledge that advertisements are meant to persuade and therefore must be viewed cautiously (Brian, 2004). In general, the interventions have been observed to be able to teach children about advertising processes, techniques, and goals, as well as increase their self-reported skepticism about advertisements (Brucks, Armstrong, & Goldberg, 1988; Singer, Zuckerman, & Singer, 1980). A significant portion of survey participant also felt the need for more media literacy programs targeting children to minimize the harmful impact of advertising to children. However further studies are required to establish the capability of media literacy training in moderates the persuasive impact of the ad once children are distanced from the intervention training.
This research study has clearly reassured the fact that advertising exerts substantial influence on children’s attitudes and behaviors as well as product preferences. Undoubtedly effective advertisements have the potential to successfully influence even the most intelligent adult, however such advertisements makes young children who lack the ability to recognize the swaying intent of advertising vulnerable to harmful effects of advertising (Linn, 2004). Both public policymakers and the advertising industry itself have expressed their concern in recent decades surrounding the practice of advertising to children. In the early 1970s, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), USA considered a proposal to ban all television advertising to young children, however they instead chose to simply place limits on the amount of time that could be devoted to commercials in children’s programs (FCC, 1974). These concerns also led to both formal public policies and industry self-regulatory guidelines in a number of countries to limit the commercial targeting to children. However at the same time there has been increase in the number of commercials sponsored by various product marketers which target the child audience with commercial persuasive messages. Such happenings definitely raise some serious questions about fairness of advertising to children who are too young to recognize and defend against such trials. The question in front of the public policy makers and thinkers raises significant doubt on policies allowing advertisers and marketers an unlimited access to such easily impressionable young minds. Questions are also being raised on policies surrounding new media such as internet, mobile telephones and other emerging technologies. The solution to those questions would not only require serious effort from policy makers and advertisers but also practitioners from the field of psychology and the related social sciences. Psychological research would definitely provide some help in designing advertisements to young children in a harmless way.
5.3 Recommendations for Future Study
Over the past several decades, a deeper and broader understanding has been achieved on a number of different aspects of the relationship between advertising and children. Continuing interest in this topic reflects the assurance that children are influenced, by advertising and by all life experience, in unique and important ways. There is a desire not only to understand what this influence might be, but also to provide appropriate safeguard against potentially negative influences (Macklin, 1999). There is a continuing dialogue reflecting both more protective and more permissive points of view. Past and future research must be viewed in this context, and to the degree that this context ebbs and flows, future research would be expected to adapt accordingly. The cognitive, emotional, social, and behavioral influence of advertising on children has been the subject of numerous studies reported across the disciplines of marketing, communications, psychology, and sociology. However new research studies need to be performed regarding advertisements and children to better understand the complexity of the relationship between the two.
Future researches should consider engaging in comparative studies. There should be replications of prior research with samples drawn from different ethnic and socioeconomic segments. Cross-sectional research is needed because of the increased diversity of population in the UK. Such effort would complement the insights developed in this study and would help demonstrate the external validity of the finding reported till now (Carlson, 1999). Children appear to prefer national brands, probably the consequence of the amount of attention given to them by those who market national brands. Whether this is evident across all economic groups and across all product categories is less evident. Further the emerging economies provide an unparalleled opportunity to observe the influence of advertising on children as it begins to take hold.
Furthermore there is a lack of policy relevant research findings. The research studies focused on policy related issues have often borne little relation to those asked by policy makers. This is not to say that such research is not useful in developing a better understanding of how advertising works, however future investigations must go beyond the general lines laid down by our research study on the impact of advertisement to children in Midlands, UK and other previous studies reported to date if they are to be helpful in clarifying and resolving the important issues in this debate.