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Study says kids aren’t fooled by ads

LONDON: Finally, there's good news for advertisers. A report entitled Children's Perceptions of Toy Advertising, commissioned by the U.K. regulatory body the Independent Television Commission (ITC), says that, contrary to popular belief, children are very rarely misled by television advertising....
September 1, 1996

LONDON: Finally, there’s good news for advertisers. A report entitled Children’s Perceptions of Toy Advertising, commissioned by the U.K. regulatory body the Independent Television Commission (ITC), says that, contrary to popular belief, children are very rarely misled by television advertising.

Children aged four to nine sat through a series of U.S. toy advertisements (so as to ensure the group had no previous knowledge of the toys pictured) and answered questions about what they saw. The results: Kids display a consistently higher level of advertising literacy than their parents expected, with older children, in particular, ‘skilled at distinguishing the reality of a product from the fantasy elements within the ad.’

While most of the children were fairly savvy in understanding the ads, younger preschool children were, however, confused by some of the special effects and devices used by advertisers. Older children were familiar with sets of toys that are sold separately; younger children sometimes expected the entire set.

Despite concerns expressed by parents-who tended to be more critical than their children-the general reaction to the advertising was good. The only ad that appeared to seriously mislead both adult and child respondents was one that had been originally cleared for broadcast, but following ITC intervention, was never shown. The fast-moving ad for Pocket Shocker Manic Mansions (described by the researchers as ‘a ghoulish toy house containing some small, hand-held monsters’) used brief glimpses of part of a child’s hands as scale references. These ‘were lost within the busy execution, and proved inadequate for viewers to accurately assess the product size,’ says the ITC.

Parents had some concern over one board-game ad that featured fluffy dogs as presenters. They felt their children would be confused and expect the dogs as well as the game, and claimed even to have been misled themselves. But sound advice came from one child: ‘the [presenters] are there to interest you more.’

Children’s Perceptions of Toy Advertising is available from the ITC Information Office for £5. ITC is located at 33 Foley Street, London, England, W1P 7LB. Telephone: 44-171-255-3000; e-mail: 100731.3515@compuserve.com.

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