Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Assignment 4

For our last assignment in this section we had to choose a book and a journal from assignment 3 that we had found using the cross search system. We had to write about them and compare them and finally say what areas we would lack at to find out more information or to give point a balanced argument.

For the previous assignment I had started out searching for any books or journals that looked at eye movement research with respect to children’s television. After a fruitless searches I noticed that children’s advertising kept appearing. Having just watched a Czech Dream, a film about two students opening a fake supermarket, I was already interested in the power of advertising. For this assignment I have chosen to read chapter 7, Who’s Messing with My Mind? from the book Consumer Kids by Ed Mayo and Agnes Nairn and a journal called Children as Consumers: Advertising and Marketing by Sandra L. Calvert.

Chapter 7, Who’s Messing with My Mind looks at how marketing from television adverts and online media can effect young children both consciously and subconsciously. Mayo and Nairn begin by asking the question that if children know how adverts work could they, with the help of older people like parents, actually be able to stop themselves falling for coy business marketing? They use evidence from two books that say that yes this is possible. The first is Why TV is Good For Kids by Catherine Lumby and Duncan Fine and the second is It’s Not the Media by Karen Sternheimer. Both books argue that young children can defend themselves from what Mayo and Nairn describe as “profit-hungry business”. Lumby and Fine even take it a step further and suggest that with children being so young they do not remember adverts therefore they could not possibly be influenced.

Chapter 7 then continues this debate by looking at a report made by the American Psychological Association which disagrees with both books and make it very clear that unlike adults, young children lack a high level of cognitive skills. They argue that because of this “children are more vulnerable to advertising than adults.” and therefore, “they do not comprehend commercial messages in the same way as do mature audiences, and, hence are uniquely susceptible to advertising influence.”

This point of view is backed up as the work of development psychologist Jean Piaget is looked at. During the 1960s Piaget established that children’s cognitive skills increase through stages as they grow. As young children grow they, Piaget states, “develop the ability to see the world from the perspective of other people.”

Consumer Kids then delves into research carried out by researchers in consumer socialization that have carried on the work of Piaget and developed his theories. The chapter expands on their work and explains to the reader that children are very vulnerable and can be somewhat influenced by marketing.

Even though television is highly regulated the chapter explains that with expanding technology children are finding new ways to become exposed by adverts such as the internet. The internet is far from being anywhere near regulated as television is and adverts are only looked at on an advert to advert basis. There is not set standard for them and action towards them is not usually carried out until a complaint has been put forward. Such problematic marketing can be found in advergames like Kellogg’s Fruit Loops Toucan Sam game. Advergames are, according to Mayo and Nairn, “interactive computer games paid for by big brands which heavily feature their product.” In the fruit Loop game users have to feed a monster food to earn points. The food on offer is Fruit Loops and pieces of fruit. Sounds straight forward and fun enough but the gamers is awarded 10 points for every Fruit Loop eaten and % points for every piece of fruit. We then learn of and experiment which involved a group of children playing this game and another group that did not. After it all the children were asked what they thought was healthier, Fruit Loops or fruit, they all said fruit. But when both groups were offered both as a snack, over half the group that played the game choose the Fruit Loops compared to only a quarter of the group that had not. What they found after this experiment was that even though children do not think advergames changed their minds they had actually changed the kids behaviour.

The chapter goes on to show more example of this by telling us of other experiments that evolve product placement in movies and showing their effects on kids which showed similar results to the Fruit Loops test.

Nairn and Mayo take children’s advertising to another level and look at Cordelia Fines book A Mind of its Own. Fine has put together covering psychology, neuroscience and marketing research. What she found showed that the power of children’s advertising was so great that children would be effected emotionally by things that would stimulate them and they would not even realise it. Basically what this is saying is that it is not what you say or think it is how you associate it with things in your head. An example given here is that when young men saw a clip of Bruce Willis smoking none of their views had changed on smoking. But for those who looked up to him they made an association with smoking and how they saw themselves.

With such concerning evidence mounting up on the dangers of advertising the chapter looks at legislation and education. For legislation they have a brief look at several countries and find out what they have done. Sweden, for example, have banned adverts to under 12s but companies have found away around it by advertising on UK channels that broadcast in Sweden. The government try to protect their children but the companies want to make as much profit as they can.

For education they look at a few websites set up to educated children in understanding media. However what they found was to very different types of sites. Some had been sponsored by the advertising industry and set about painting a positive image of advertising. Whereas another site, operated by the Food Commission painted a picture of the industry that was that we should question everything about it and that it was dangerous.

The end of the chapter ends by revealing to us that the question that was first asked has evolved into something different which require more debating. This debate would be steered towards the effects of, as Nairn and Mayo say, “marketing which works on children’s emotions at an emotional level.” It suggest that the government needs to step in as they are they as a whole would be able to challenge the issues throughout the whole country. Nairn and Mayo end by putting forward the suggestion that the real issue is whether or not we can make sure, as they say, “children understand advertising messages,” but rather, “how the commercial world with its all embracing, wrap-around presence affects how children feel about themselves and others.”

The journal Children as Consumers: Advertising and Marketing looks at in more detail cognitive development in children and the effects on behaviour after being exposed to advertising such as how they interpret the adverts purpose and if they actually remember what they have just seen.

Just like the book Consumer Kids this journal looks at Jean Piagets theory of cognitive theory, but in slightly more detail and gives us examples of each stage so we can understand better. For example when children are between the ages of two and seven they are in the preoperational stage. At this stage children believe what they are viewing is, so during Christmas they really think Santa is coming to give presents.

The journal then continues to explain the work of Deborah John who created a model, using Piagets theories, of social consumerism. It also looks at the work of Patti Valkenburg and Joanne Cantor who, also using Piagets theories, created their own model of the stages of a child’s consumerism developments.

Calvert then briefly touches on media interaction such as online games. She talks about the positive side of them, like the learning as they play. These games create a conversation with the user but the type of conversation is dependant on that users age. Very young children might think they the character on screen is real whereas someone older can tell the difference between a fictional character and reality. These games evolve as the user plays along so that the messages getting received are tailored to that particular age group. This then allows advertisers the opportunity to bombard children with adverts to buy their brand.

Next we are told, as like the book, that many companies back online sites in which their product can be a part of it. It also goes on to say that the time in between seeing an internet advert and actually purchasing the product is significantly smaller than if viewed on television as they can be taken to an online shop straight away with a simple click. This is a real danger as Calvert believes that shortening in purchasing timescale will “have major implications for children,” because they, “are more vulnerable to commercial messages than adults are.”

Children as Consumers then proceeds to explain how a child understands marketing. This is broken down into 5 subheadings; attention, recognition and retention, comprehension of commercial intent, product requests and purchases and finally advertising exposure and children’s behaviour. Each of these are given a brief description of what they are and how they contribute to encourage children to buy products.

The author loos then at typical behaviour of a child after being exposed to adverts. What was found was the more exposure they had the more wanted and if they were denied this request by their parents the child was more likely to argue with them. Research also found that even if the children know that celebrities were used to make people buy things, if they were exposed to it enough through repeated viewing they would eventually still find themselves wanting it.

Calvert went on to look at research carried out by the National Academies panel that were looking at the link between adverts for food with obesity. She also looked at research from the American Psychological Association that are worried that adverts will turn children into being more materialistic. The problem so far is that younger and younger children are buying things that are usually aimed at people much older than them, like make-up for example.

The journal finishes off by looking at what parents could do to help children understand marketing. Researcher Leonard Reid found that there was 3 ways you could parent with regards to the television. These were co viewing, active mediation and restrictive mediation. Co viewing had little success whilst active and restrictive mediation had some success when it came to certain types of adverts. Reid found however that with restricted viewing there was a smaller chance that children would ask for something.

Both texts where very interesting to read and not knowing much about advertising and psychology I found them as a useful introduction to a new subject to me. Consumer Kids was full of sources and other books that not only supported the authors claims but also gave us a balanced view by hearing the other side of the argument. I appreciated the fact that Nairn and Mayo named the texts they used as I have and opportunity to further my reading on this some what controversial topic. My only slightly negative comment would be that they never had the opportunity to look at points in greater detail, but in all great fairness they only had a chapter to write what could easily become a whole book by itself.

The journal contained much of what I had read in the book and repeated itself by explaining Piagets theories three times, albeit with variations and improvements. Calvert gave us more examples when explaining the more complex ideas which did however help me understand the topic better. This paper was written purely from an American perspective and does not look at advertisement from around the world, which the book does. My biggest complaint about Children as Consumers is that the writer does not tell us anything about the people she talks about and at times we have to guess whether people are researchers. I do not know if she is using their names to help her assumptions or if it is actually their own research.

Next for me I plan to read Consumer Kids in its entirety as I found that single chapter really interesting and has shocked me that these companies can manipulate children at such a young age purely so they will buy the toys they make or the sweets they sell. I would also like to read a few of the book mention in Consumer Kids to get a wider understanding of this topic. This will however have to be put on hold until I can get through the mountain of books that has appeared on my desk recently!


Calvert, Sandra L. (2008). Children as Consumers: Advertising and Marketing. The Future of Children. 18 (1), p214-220.

Gladwell, Malcolm. (2010). The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. New York: Abacus.

Mayo, Ed and Nairn, Agnes. (2009). Consumer Kids. London: Constable.

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