KidThink: What Today’s Kids are Thinking: About television commercials

To help us keep up-to-date with what's happening with kids, we've asked Kid Think Inc., a youth marketing consulting group, to investigate and report back on a wide range issues in kids' lives. Since today's kids spend so much time on-line,...
June 1, 1996

To help us keep up-to-date with what’s happening with kids, we’ve asked Kid Think Inc., a youth marketing consulting group, to investigate and report back on a wide range issues in kids’ lives. Since today’s kids spend so much time on-line, Kid Think will be talking to kids via Live Wire, Today’s Families Online, a proprietary panel of 600 on-line families across the United States.

Both Kid Think and Live Wire are divisions of Griffin Bacal, a New York communications agency specializing in the youth and family markets. If you have any questions, would like further information or have subjects you’d like to see Kid Think cover, call Bob Horne at 212-337-6410 (

For this first column, Kid Think asked the Live Wire panel, consisting of kids from about age four to 12, what they thought about television commercials.

What we found:

To start with, kids genuinely like advertising. For kids, advertising has real entertainment value. Remember, kids have grown up knowing that commercials are about fun things that are intended for them.

According to industry findings, when a commercial comes on, over 85 percent of kids either don’t change the channel or only sometimes do-a rather stark contrast to adult channel surfing. Kids’ viewing has dropped from 25 to about 20 hours of programming a week in recent years because of increased competition from computers, the Internet, VCRs and video games. But at 20 hours, kids still see close to 1,000 commercials per week.

Our on-line methodology consisted of conducting two focus groups and E-mailing a questionnaire asking kids to tell us which commercials they liked best and why. It’s clear that kids are incredibly discerning viewers. They know what they like, they know when they’re being sold to, and when a product or service is being overhyped. So communicating to them is a tricky balancing act.

What they said:

Here, in no particular order, is what kids identified as some of their favorite commercials.

- M&Ms: ‘The commercials for the new blue guys.’ ‘It’s funny, because they make the M&Ms come to life and act like real people being jealous of one another.’

- Mountain Dew: ‘It’s actually cool. I like the song.’ ”Do the Dew’ is cool.’

- Pringles: ‘It’s fun to pop the lids off.’ ‘It has great rhythm.’

- Pepsi: ‘I like the one where the kid slurps himself into the bottle.’ ‘I like when the soda can gets stuck to the man’s lip. It’s so funny. I got my tongue stuck to an ice cream bar once.’

- Milk: ‘They are so funny, like the guy all bandaged up so that he can’t get milk, or the guy that tries to say ‘Aaron Burr’ or when the guy is eating chocolate chip cookies in heaven and finds out he’s really in hell because there’s no milk, then the ‘got milk’ letters are on fire-those are great.’

- Oreo: ‘I like when they make the little character run around the screen and stuff. It’s like going to Oreo heaven.’

- McDonald’s Restaurants: ‘The baby in the swing is so funny because you don’t know why she’s laughing until you see that she sees the golden arches.’ ‘I like where Ronald is playing golf because he looks so silly.’

- G.I. J’e Extreme: ‘I like it because there’s a lot of action and because it shows me what’s in the stores.’

- Coca-Cola: ‘The music and the look of the commercials are always cool.’ ‘I like the bears because the animation is so cool.’

- Little Caesars: ‘They’re so funny. I like the one with the baby balancing the plates and the dog dancing with the lady.’

- Old El Paso: ‘I like the Nacho Man song.’

- Bubble Tape: ‘It’s funny the way it makes fun of adults, especially the lunch lady. I love that one.’

- Handi Snacks: ‘I like the stick man. He’s funny.’

- Cheetos: ‘I love Chester Cheetah. He’s cool.’

- Sprite: ”Obey your thirst’ is such a cool line and they show cool kids having fun and doing sports and things I like to do.’

- Nickelodeon: ‘I love anything Nickelodeon. I’m always telling my sister to ‘smell my gak.”


Most of the commercials seem to have some common elements that make the commercials fun and entertaining. For example, humor was mentioned the most. Kids love humor of all types: irreverent humor, gross humor, making fun of adults, or over-the-top characters doing wild slapstick kinds of things.

Kids love music and slogans, provided they are ‘cool’ (the operative word with kids). These give brands personality and an identity. They also like to see kids like themselves having fun and doing things that they would want to do, like sports-always a big draw.

Kids think characters are great, whether animated with exciting special effects, or ‘stars’ like Michael Jordan or Jennifer Aniston.

And once you capture kids’ imaginations with such symbols, it can have a lasting effect. Look at how enduring those Coke polar bears have been. Kids think they’re still on air.

Surprises make commercials fun, and don’t forget they should be informative (in a fun, cool way of course). Kids like to be on top of the latest and greatest-that’s definitely ‘phat.’ (For those of you who don’t wear your baseball caps backwards, that means ‘cool.’)

The Kid Think column is a regular KidScreen feature.

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