Children’s perception and understanding of online advertising and marketing techniques

Relevant literature on children’s perspectives on advertising and marketing

  • Barbie Clarke, Siv Svanaes Literature Review of Research on Online Food and Beverage Marketing to Children.  Produced for the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP). Family Kids & Youth
    • Previous research has shown that children are able to understand the persuasive intentions of television advertising from a fairly young age (although there is some debate about precisely when this occurs). When it comes to digital advertising, however, the issue can be more complex. It is hard to imagine that a child playing a game on a branded website or receiving unsolicited marketing emails will not recognise that there is some commercial intent here. Yet the situation is not always so clear. Much of this advertising is ‘embedded’, or inextricable from other content: the fact that this is indeed a commercial appeal, created by an advertiser or a company, is not always evident. In the case of viral marketing or social media advertising, the origin of the message is not always clear. Such techniques may therefore prove misleading in ways that are different from traditional advertising: put simply, it may be that people are trying to sell us things without us recognising that this is what they are doing. (p.13)
    • As this report shows, there is very little evidence on whether children (or people in general) are actually misled by these kinds of techniques. Marketing techniques are undoubtedly changing; but equally, people’s awareness of those techniques is also likely to be changing, not least because of the large amount of public and media commentary on the issue. It is hardly surprising if people are not aware of marketing techniques that are new and less widely understood; but the effectiveness of such techniques is likely to change once they do become aware of them. In this respect, studies showing that children do not understand new digital techniques are not especially significant: what we need to know is how they understand them once they have become common practice. It may be true today that children (like adults) have less understanding of some aspects of digital and online marketing than they do of television advertising; but it is less likely that this will be the case in five years’ time.
  • T. Donohue, L. Lucy, et al. (1980) Do Kids Know What TV Commercials Intend? In: Journal of Advertising Research 20 (5): 58.
    • Although it is acknowledged that acquiring advertising literacy is a gradual process, there has been significant debate about the age at which children acquire mature levels of advertising literacy, particularly since the development of online marketing. Research has previously pointed to evidence that children can recognise an advertisement as different from a television programme around the age of seven or eight as an indication that this is when children have acquired advertising literacy.
  • L. Kelly, G. Kerr, et al. (2010) Avoidance of Advertising in Social Networking Sites: The Teenage Perspective. In: Journal of Interactive Advertising 10 (2): 12.
    • In this qualitative study the teenagers mostly claimed to not notice banner ads and argued that they were capable of ‘mentally filtering’ them out. They did, however, admit to liking advertising they could engage with, or that relieved them of boredom, such as games.
    • The teenagers had little understanding of the connection between their personal data and the advertising they saw. Since this study was published in 2010, when it could be argued there was less public awareness of personal data, this may have now changed. The participants admitted to playing branded games on social networks but did not perceive them as advertisements. It is argued that these teenagers generally saw themselves as empowered consumers capable of limiting their exposure to or influence by marketing.
  • C. Martinez, G. Jarlbro, et al. (2013) Children’s Views and Practices Regarding Online Advertising. In: Nordicom Review 34 (2): 16.
    • A small study with nine and ten-year-old Swedish children asked children how they felt about advertising online and explored their strategies for avoiding advertising they did not like. The authors argue that these children were mostly sophisticated internet users and had strategies to avoid unwanted advertising.
    • The children were either mostly negative or ambivalent towards advertising. The children who were negative towards advertising said they found advertising which interrupted what they were doing very annoying, for example, when watching videos on YouTube. They avoided the adverts either by looking away or using the time to do something else; similar to the way in which they would avoid advertising on television. However, children were entertained by some of the advertisements they had seen, predominantly the ones they found funny or that included animals or cartoon spokes-characters. More research exploring children and young people’s attitudes to advertising across different markets would be beneficial in gaining a more nuanced understanding of the role marketing plays in children’s lives.
  • C. Oates, S. Li, et al. (2014) Becoming Knowledgeable Consumers: The Ability of Young Children to Recognise When They Are Being Targeted by Marketers in Different Media. Child and Teen Consumption Conference. Edinburgh, Scotland.
    • It has been pointed out that there is a difference between recognising an advertisement and understanding its persuasive role and how it is communicated. More recent research, particularly research on newer marketing formats such as advergames, product placements, endorsements and viral marketing, has shown that a mature understanding of persuasion tactics is not acquired until children are much older, often during adolescence.
  • Ofcom (2014) Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report. London, Ofcom.
    • There is little evidence of how children perceive online advertising, although it is likely that attitudes towards advertising could significantly impact its effectiveness. The report from Ofcom published October 2014 indicates that children increasingly dislike advertising online. 31% of 8-11 year olds and 46% of 12-15 year olds in the survey said there were too many adverts on the internet and this is an increase from 22% for 8-11 year olds and 35% last year.
  • I. Redondo (2012) The Effectiveness of Casual Advergames on Adolescents’ Brand Attitudes. In: European Journal of Marketing 46 (11/12): 18.
    • A study with Spanish adolescents found that negative reactions towards brand placements in a game could reduce positive effects of brand attitude but little similar research has been carried out with children.
  • John D. Roedder (1999) Consumer socialization of children: A retrospective look at twenty-five years of research. In: Journal of Consumer Research 26 (3): 31.
    • Used Piaget’s model of child development to create a theory of childhood consumer socialisation. Following Piaget, John argued that children pass through three stages of development: the perceptual stage (3–7), the analytical stage (7–11), and the reflective stage (11–16); and it is not until this final stage that children reach a sophisticated understanding of advertising.
      Children’s limited understanding of how advertising communicates and the intent behind it will, according to John, make children more vulnerable to its effects.
  • M. K. J. Waiguny, M. R. Nelson, et al. (2013) The Relationship of Persuasion Knowledge, Identification of Commercial Intent and Persuasion Outcomes in Advergames—the Role of Media Context and Presence. In: Journal of Consumer Policy.
    • It has also been highlighted that having advertising literacy does not necessarily mean children will identify advertising, especially if the persuasive intent is more embedded or if the child is distracted, for example, by the entertaining nature of the content.