Sunday, September 18, 2011

advertising to children

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. 
  1. Repetition: because this effect is subtle, it works well on adults too.  Think Budweiser ads, billboards, coasters in bars, etc. etc.
  2. Demonstration: show the consumer how the item works (focusing on its benefits)
  3. Peer influence: displaying the target demographic using and enjoying the product
  4. Humor: associating the product with fun/funny
  5. Celebrity endorsement: associating the product with positive attitudes towards celebrities.
  6. 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. 
  1. All but peer influence try to increase recall of the product and its attributes (cognitive)
  2. Peer and humor are used to increase the likability of the product (affective)
  3. 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.

21st Century teaching

There was an hour long panel on the American Media Radio show focused on why lecturing is the worst way to teach.  There were also about 5 articles on the web site that talked about specific research projects that have provided evidence for this.  Lecturing started in the days before the printing press when students couldn’t read in advance.  So the teachers (at all levels) had to present the material brand new to the students.  And, we didn’t really know any better about how people learn.

But their studies show that there are a couple of better methods:
  • Making sure that students read the material ahead of time, so no lecturing is needed during class.  One prof has a multiple choice quiz covering the readings for the day on the course web site that students have to complete in advance in order to get in the door at classtime.  I am going to use this one!
  • Peer learning. One physics prof discovered that when he lectured on a particular topic, about half the students really understood it.  So he had them pair up and explain it to each other.  They all got it after that.  Students who just learned the concept were much better at teaching it to the clueless students because the learning process was fresh and they have a more similar context.  So now he runs classes like this every day.  He asks a question in the day’s material, knowing that they have read it already, and the students break out to debate it with each other.
  • One entire university redesigned its instructional techniques when they hired a new president.  Now, all the classes are designed to be interactive and peer-based.
These articles gave me a lot to think about.  I try not to lecture and like to do peer-interaction breakout sessions.  But when students haven’t read in advance, it’s impossible.  So I am thinking if I start doing the pre-class online quiz, then I can do this more.