We're almost (but not quite!) at the end of our lengthy series on the intersection of money and parenting. Most recently, we talked with Dr. Allison Pugh to try to understand the answer to the question "Given that advertising is happening, how do parents and children respond?"
In this episode we take a step back by asking "what about that advertising?" with Dr. Esther Rozendaal of Radboud University in the Netherlands whose research focuses on children's understanding of advertising messages. Can children understand that advertising is different from regular TV programming? At what age do they realize an advertisement is an attempt to sell them something? And what should parents do to reduce the impact of advertising on children? It's all here in this episode.
Other episodes in this series
This episode is the first in a series on the intersection of parenting and money. You can find other episodes in this series:
038: The Opposite of Spoiled105: How to pass on mental wealth to your child107: The impact of consumerism on children112: How to Set up a Play Room118: Are You Raising Materialistic Kids?
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Hi, I'm Jen and I host the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. We all want our children to lead fulfilling lives. But it can be so hard to keep up with the latest scientific research on child development and figure out whether and how to incorporate it into our own approach to parenting. Here at Your Parenting Mojo, I do the work for you by critically examining strategies and tools related to parenting and child development that are grounded in scientific research and principles of respectful parenting. If you'd like to be notified when new episodes are released, and get a FREE Guide to 7 Parenting Myths That We Can Safely Leave Behind 7 Fewer Things to Worry About, subscribe to the show at yourparentingmojo.com. You can also continue the conversation about the show with other listeners in the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group. I do hope you'll join us Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast.
Today's episode is a continuation of a series that I'm doing on the intersection of childhood and money. We started by talking with New York Times money columnist Ron Lieber, on his book The Opposite of Spoiled and then continue the conversation with Dr. Brad Klontz about the money scripts that we pass on to our children. Next, we heard from Dr. Allison Pugh who studies the way that parents and children manage in our consumerist culture. Dr. Pugh is a sociologist who is more interested in how people interact with each other than the ways their brains work. And she also takes advertising as a given and says, since advertising and commercialization is happening, how do parents and children respond? But of course, there's another side to the story. And that's the perspective that yes, advertising is happening and what does this mean for our children? How do our children perceive advertisements? Can they understand when a company is trying to sell them something and can we teach them to be more aware about this or is it a lost cause?
Our guest today is Dr. Esther Rozendaal. She's an associate professor At the behavioral Science Institute, as well as an associate professor in communication science at Radford University in the Netherlands. Dr. Rozendaal is an expert on young people's media and consumer behavior and Her research focuses in large part on children and advertising. She obtained a master's in Business Economics from Erasmus University Rotterdam followed immediately by an MSc in social psychology from the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands, followed by a PhD from the University of Amsterdam, for which she wrote her dissertation on the topic of advertising literacy and children's susceptibility to advertising. Welcome Dr. Rozendaal. Thank you. Thanks so much for being here with us. So I wonder if we can sort of start at the beginning and just say, Okay, why do companies advertise? It seems as though companies advertise products because they want us to buy the products. But how does this actually happen? What kind of changes does advertising bring about in I guess all people, children and adults?
Dr. Rozendaal 02:57
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, of course. First of all, for companies and for their brands, it's really important that we are aware of them, right? So if they want to make money, so if it's of course the core business, we need to be aware of all the products that they are creating that they're selling. So that's actually the fact that we can recognize all those products when we are in shops, or even that we can free recall those products that we can say okay, so I'm in need for a new type of mascara, for example. And now suddenly, this brand pops up in my mind, I'd like to have it so that's actually the first thing they like to create in our minds. And then of course, they want us to like all those brands and products that they are creating in all the surfaces they are thinking about. So once we do recognize those products and brands, and once we also like them, then the next step is of course that we are going to buy those products and that we want to request it So especially with kids, is it's highly important that those children start asking their parents to buy.
Yes, every parent's favorite form of advertising this way. Yeah. And so what kind of tactics to advertisers used to influence consumers? And I'm wondering, are these different for younger children and what what age did children just kind of understand these?
Dr. Rozendaal 04:27
Well, there are, of course, several tactics that they're using. And when you look at children in particular, an often used appeal is the popularity appeal. So children are of course highly susceptible to the influence of their peers, and to being popular. So when you look at, for example, the traditional television commercials, one of the tactics that you can see quite often is that they are showing some really popular children surrounded by a group of other children using kind of product or service and being really happy about it and all the other kids smiling and happy. Yeah, they're so happy. And this is actually also a technique that is now used quite often not only in the traditional television commercials but also on YouTube for example. So, there also you have deep popularity appeals. So children are films are also other influencers who are not children themselves. Also, they film themselves in settings in which they are really happy and popular, while using the products and the brands they are advertising. And also a thing which is really used quite a lot. For example, by McDonald's is presenting children with free stuff. Right? So the freebies, the things you can get for free and also this is a technique that is seen online quite often. So also with banner ads. For example, on TV ones websites, there are like, showing things like, Okay, do you want to win a free toy? Do you want to get free tickets for a certain festival, just click here, provide us with some of your personal details, and then you'll get a free toy or two tickets. So this is also something that is highly persuasive for children, particularly, but also for adults. Of course, we also want to have free stuff, right? So these are some of the techniques that are used, but there are many, many more.
Yeah, there really are. And I want to delve into one of those a little bit because I think it's particularly hard for us to get our head around by just describing a literature review in a study. So there was a pretty recent literature review that was done in 2016. And it found a general consensus that food advertising is positively correlated with unhealthy food take but there's a lack of insight into the causal relationship. So we don't know if more children who are watching ads are unhealthy or if unhealthy children are watching more ads. And then related to that there was another study that was actually too recent to be included in that one from 2017. And I'm going to quote it says children who watched a movie with more food product placement and branding were more likely to choose the snack most highly featured in that movie than children who watched a movie without significant unhealthy branded foods placement. And so what the researchers are doing here is they were putting the children down in front of the movie album, the Chipmunks. And then after that these children were three times as likely to choose the cheese balls snack that was frequently featured in that movie as cheese puffs which weren't seen in the film. And the children were saying then they weren't particularly hungry. They were told they didn't need to finish the snacks. They still ate on average about 800 calories or half the recommended amount of calories per day for children aged nine to 11. And so the researchers were thinking okay, maybe a child who sees a character often eating a product in a movie may be more likely to automatically choose that product in the future and then casting even further light on that and even more recent study from 2018 this is really an active field found that children, when you explain this concept to them, they initially don't believe that integrated advertising could possibly have any impact on their life. So it seems as though you have some thoughts on this.
Dr. Rozendaal 08:17
Yeah. Well, the thing is with those integrated forms of advertising and these, these types of advertising received a lot these days, right, not only in the movies and TV programmes, but also on YouTube, in different influencer videos. The thing is that it's so highly integrated and embedded in non commercial content that children and adults as well do not always recognize the product placement as a type of persuasion with a commercial intent. So all the possible defense mechanisms that could be there are not really likely to be activated in situations like this. And then what happens Is that the brands and the products are associated with a happy stuff in the movie. So this is called effect transfer or evaluative conditioning. So there are a lot of nice things going on in those movies, right? So a lot of funny things. And those brands and products are placed in parts of the movies in which the feelings are really positive. So those positive feelings are associated, this is really an implicit and oftentimes a non conscious process. So it becomes an association in the mind of which we are not really aware and children are also not really aware about this force. And I really recognize this from my own interviews that I had with children about product placements in in influencer videos, that when you ask them, okay, do you think this really affects you? So they just show this product or this brand in in their video? Does it affect you that you're saying no, no. If this really this doesn't affect me at all, and they really believe that some of those children, they do think that it affects others. So this is the third person effect, right? It's not me, he undercuts me. And this often shows something, it shows that somehow they think, yeah, okay, there could be something here. But what I've learned is that being influenced is not really a positive thing. So I resist the fact that it could possibly have an effect on me.
And to be fair, I'd probably say the same thing.
Dr. Rozendaal 10:40
So yeah, I would say the same thing as well, even even now, I know that it's not true, right. I've done this research for almost 15 years now. So I should know better than that. But
we all want to think we're not influenced right.
Dr. Rozendaal 10:58
And sometimes, we are Actually, no, that is not true. But many times we actually think that we are not influenced. So sometimes we need just need some proof that we actually are to make us aware of the fact that it can have a major impact on our behaviors or thoughts or feelings. Mm hmm. But yeah, so this is really the thing with integrated types of advertising. It's a less conscious influencing process that's going on and we see it more and more often.
Yeah. Okay. So I wonder if we can get into the heart of your research. And maybe you can briefly start by defining for us what is advertising literacy?
Dr. Rozendaal 11:36
Yeah, advertising literacy. It's really it's a broad concept. The way I'd like to define it is that it's a set of understandings, it's in the literature, you can see that the focus is mainly on different types of knowledge and understanding. So first, you have to start with it's the understanding how you can recognize different types of activity. And also actually the ability to recognize different types of advertising. And with that comes an understanding of its commercial intent. It's the selling intent and also the persuasive intent, and also the understanding of the different tactics that are being used by advertisers to influence you. It also includes some understanding of the economic models behind advertising, about the source of advertising, who's creating it with what kind of purposes but on the other hand, in the literature, you can also see advertising literacy being defined as a kind of attitude. And this is also what I like about advertising literacy. It's not only about having certain kind of knowledge, it's also about having a general critical attitude towards advertising. So that include a healthy kind of this liking, so to say, right, so it's more like okay, I just this like this. Unless you really convinced me that this is really a good thing. So it's kind of a certain level of skepticism, not believing the things for what they are. It's about criticizing, it's also about thinking about the appropriateness of advertising. So especially with integrated types of advertising, it's also important to have a certain feeling of Okay. How do I feel about this particular tactic? Is it okay that advertisers use these more implicit wastes to influence me? Is that appropriate for me or not? So yeah, so it includes glutes, all these kind of things. And then I do believe that it's also really important also as a part of advertising literacy, that it's a certain scale of using this general knowledge and these general critical attitudes that you can have to work advertising That you are able to activate those knowledge structures and also those attitudes when it's really necessary. So when you are really exposed to advertising, when you're actually exposed to it, and when you recognize it that you can also try to evaluate those advertising messages in light of the attitudes and the knowledge that you have about it. So that's, I call it advertising literacy performance. So it's really using your advertising literacy, instead of only having it. So you can see a large difference between for sure. Yeah, and
I wonder if you can talk us through the main stages that children go through as they're developing and sort of an adult level of understanding of advertising recognition, because I think this doesn't come at an early age and it doesn't come all at once, right?
Dr. Rozendaal 14:51
No, no, no, no, it definitely develops when children get older. So when you look at the literature, what it says about family Young children is that they are able to recognize clear forms of advertising. So for example, television commercials, children around the age of five, and recognize these commercials as being an ad, and I have a five year old son myself, and this year around Christmas, I really became aware of the fact that around the age of five, they start recognizing those advertisements on television only he also watches YouTube in there. It's a totally different story. But what's also interesting is that so he said, okay, Mommy, this is advertising. So I asked him, okay, so do you know what advertising is? And he said, No, it doesn't matter. It's just fun. So, what you can see here is that when children are younger, they are probably able to recognize those clear forms of advertising, but they are not yet able to understand the whole commercial intent behind it. The only thing is He could explain to me was that Yeah, so I know that all these things, I can put it on my wish list, right. And I can get it for Christmas. And I'm like, Okay, so that's, of course, one of the basic elements of advertising that is provide you with information of all the things that are in store. But that's just a basic understanding. And you can see it in the literature as well with those young children. And when they get older, you can see that their brain is developing, of course, so they're developing a certain theory of mind. And that's actually the ability to think from the perspective of someone else, and also did his theory of mind as different layers. But basically, it really means that when children get older, they are more and more able to understand that there are other people at ISIS in this respect, that might have this Front thoughts than they have, and that might have different intentions than they have. So first, they need to be able to understand these different perspectives before they are able to understand that there are advertisers that want to persuade them to sell products, and then also to make money. So you can see that around the age of eight children are well, better able to understand perspective, a different perspective and that they are also better able to understand the intentions of advertisers and all sorts of different persuasive tactics.
Okay, and then there's sort of another level that comes in at around age 13, isn't there?
Dr. Rozendaal 17:41
Yeah, well, and that also has to do quite a lot to do with critical thinking. So around the age of 12, or 13, children are much better able to think about abstract concepts. And that's of course, also highly important also to email. Wait advertising and also to develop a critical attitude towards it. And not only so when children are really young, they can say, just advertising is stupid and you don't? Well, you just do not believe what they're saying. But they're actually just repeating what their parents are telling them, and not really, really understanding why they should be skeptical, since that's also, of course, a pretty abstract thing to think about. So when they are older, they're better able of doing so. And then of course, also because they're just gaining more and more experience with advertising, and not only with the clear types, like television commercials, but also online types of advertising, integrated forms of advertising, since they are more experienced, they are also better able to grasp what's going on. Mm hmm.
Yeah. And so the majority of parents who are listening to this have preschoolers and a good chunk of them are...