Interesting study I read on childrens’ literacy about advertising, its intent, and its tactics. They were interested in learning at what age children figure out that the advertisers are trying to influence them and if they can tell how this happening. Of course, many adults aren’t particularly good at this, so they did a comparison to typical adult advertising literacy.
Developmental psych informs us that children under age 5 don’t realize that different people can have different thoughts, intentions, and knowledge. By age 8, most children can understand that advertisers have a motive for telling them things, but can’t recognize specific tactics and how it affects them. It is not until 10-12 years old that children start to understand that advertisers are trying to change their mental state through subtle persuasion. So it is between ages 8 and 12 that children learn to recognize and understand advertisers’ persuasion tactics.
So they surveyed advertisers about their strategies and identified six tactics that advertisers typically pursue.
- Repetition: because this effect is subtle, it works well on adults too. Think Budweiser ads, billboards, coasters in bars, etc. etc.
- Demonstration: show the consumer how the item works (focusing on its benefits)
- Peer influence: displaying the target demographic using and enjoying the product
- Humor: associating the product with fun/funny
- Celebrity endorsement: associating the product with positive attitudes towards celebrities.
- Premiums: free stuff has a powerful pull, even on adults. Think Dan Ariely’s work.
They use these strategies to achieve the following three goals.
- All but peer influence try to increase recall of the product and its attributes (cognitive)
- Peer and humor are used to increase the likability of the product (affective)
- All but humor are used to get children to ask their parents to buy them the product (behavioral)
Adults and children aged 10-12 had about the same predictions as to what the advertisers’ strategies were when using each of these tactics. Children ages 8-9 had less awareness. The strategies of product demonstration and humor were learned at the latest age. Even adults didn’t see through humor. Premiums are the most obvious, even to the youngest children.
What does this mean? If we think children need special protection from advertisers, we can now focus on the aspects that either they are least aware of, or the aspects where they are furthest behind adults. The biggest one was product demonstration. The paternalist could achieve this through regulation and the libertarian could achieve this through education.
Another study looked in more detail about the repetition strategy. What they found is that even when consumers didn’t remember the companies for which they had seen advertising, it still increased their likelihood to consider it. So a lot of the effects of repetition are subconscious. I think many of us would have predicted this, but they have the hard data to show it.