Karen J. Pine and Avril Nash
University of Hertfordshire, Hateld, UK
Every day children are exposed to the selling messages of advertisers via the television. There is some debate in the literature over the age at which young children can distinguish television advertisements from programmes, when they can remember and want what they see and when they are able to understand that the advertiser’s motive is to sell a product. Resolution of the debate has been hampered by methodological difculties and paradigms which fail to fully capture and explain children’s responses to advertisements. This study uses a novel and ecologically valid method of exploring how toy advertising affects children by studying their requests to Father Christmas, monitoring toy commercials and collecting television viewing data. Eighty-three children aged from 4.8 to 6.5 years, who had written letters to Father Christmas, were interviewed regarding the extent and nature of their television viewing. Letters and similar data were also analysed for 16 nursery school children, aged 3.8 to 4.8 years, using questionnaire responses from their parents. Overall, children who watched more commercial television were found to request a greater number of items from Father Christmas. These children also requested more branded items than children who watched less. However, the children’s requests did not correlate signicantly with the most frequently advertised toy products on television in the build-up to Christmas. Almost 90%of the toys advertised did not feature once in the children’s letters, suggesting that recall for specic brand names is poor in the under-7s. A positive correlation was found between watching television alone and number of requests. One interpretation of this may be that lone viewing renders children more susceptible to...