Children's Understanding of the Intent of Advertising: A Meta-Analysis Author(s): Mary C.

Martin Source: Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Fall, 1997), pp. 205-216 Published by: American Marketing Association Stable URL: . Accessed: 23/01/2014 22:00
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of the Understanding Meta-Analysis




Mary C. Martin
The author conductsa meta-analysisinvestigatingthe extent to which children understand the intent of advertising. The results show several studycharacteristicsthat have contributedto variance in results of prior research efforts. The author uses these results to for public policymaking. develop suggestionsfor further research and implications


childin the UnitedStatessees morethan average

30,000 television commercials a year for various types of products (Condry, Bence, and Scheibe 1988). In addition, the percentageof commercials for toys and games during children's programminghas more than tripled since the late 1970s (Condry, Bence, and Scheibe 1988). Given the amountof advertisingtargetedat children, the concern about the effects of advertisingon children is alive and well. For example, the Children'sTelevision Act (14 U.S.C. 303), passed by Congress in 1990, reinstateda ban on program-length commercialsand issued a policy that a related advertisementmust be separatedfrom the startor close of a toy-based programby some portion of an unrelated program.In August, 1996, a mandatefrom Washington stipulated that broadcastersadhere to the Children's Television Act of 1990 by providingthree hours of educational programming each week (Eggerton 1996). Most recently, the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) restriction of cigarette advertising directed at youths has fueled a heateddebate. Given this continuing concern, over the past three decades in the marketing,advertising,communications,and developmental literature, researchers have assessed the effects of advertising on children. This effort continues today. For example, researchershave produced empirical evidence of cigaretteadvertising'seffect on childrenand/or its relation to their smoking behavior (e.g., Mizerski 1995; Pechmannand Ratneshwar1994; Pollay et al. 1996). Other areas recently investigated include the effects of retrieval cues on children's memory and brandevaluations(Macklin 1994) and adolescents' skepticism toward advertising (Boush, Friestad,and Rose 1994). This concern about the effects of advertisingon children has two components:social and political.The social concern involves consumers', particularly parents', beliefs that For example, Hite advertisingaffects childrendetrimentally. and Eck (1987) find that consumers view children's advertising as manipulative,promotingmaterialism,stifling creativity, and disrupting parent-child relationships. This
MARY C. MARTIN is Assistant Professorof Marketing,Department of Marketing,The Belk College of Business Administration,The University of NorthCarolinaat Charlotte.The authorthanksSteve Brown, Jim Gentry, Ravi Sohi, and Steve Wise for their support and assistance on this project.

social concern also has involved the formation of public interest groups with the intent of protectingchildren from advertising. For example, in 1978, Action for Children's Television (ACT) petitioned the Federal Communications Commission(FCC) to ban all television advertisingdirected to children. The politicalconcernstems from the criticismsand actions of consumersand public interestgroups and has resultedin both self-regulation by televisionnetworksand governmental of children's One particular regulation advertising. questionis whetherand to what extent childrenunderstand the intentof (i.e., Do childrenknow whatcommercialsare and advertising what they are tryingto do?). The public policy issue relevant to children'sunderstanding of ad intentis fairness:"Areyoung children;who possess only limitedcapabilitiesfor evaluating commercialpersuasion,fair targetsfor advertising" (Kunkel andRoberts1991,p. 58)? Froma legal perspective, if children of the persuasiveintentof advertising, are unaware all advertisementsaimedat them are,by definition,unfairand/ormisleading.In turn,it has been proposedthatchildrenwho do not understand the intentof advertising are influencedmoreeasily by advertising, expressinggreaterbeliefs in commercialcontent and makingmore purchase requeststhanchildrenwith a of intent(Adleret al. 1977). greaterunderstanding advertising this research stream is Thus, importantgiven its value in as affecting past and future social values as well expressing public policy efforts by regulators,such as the FCC and the FederalTradeCommission (FTC), to protect childrenfrom when factors influencingthe relaadvertising.In particular, between and tionship age understanding of advertising intent are understood more clearly, policymakers will be better able to establish guidelines for the regulationof children's advertising(or, more basically, whether any guidelines are needed at all).

The ResearchQuestion
The purpose of this meta-analysisis to examine the literaturethathas investigatedthe extent to which childrenunderstand the intent of advertising. Specifically, those studies that address the questions "What is a commercial?" and "Why is a commercialon television/What is a commercial trying to do?" are the focus of this meta-analysis.This area of study was selected purposefully to serve as a starting point for meta-analysesof researchon children and advertising. Given the diversity and numberof studies that have 205

Vol.16 (2) Fall 1997,205-216

Journal of Public Policy & Marketing

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Children'sUnderstanding of the Intentof Advertising
workanddanticularproblem areas.Thereis muchempirical littletheory andthishasled to somemuddled gerously thinking and conceptual confusionduringthe years when most of the research waspublished. It has been suggestedthatany advertisingdirectedat children is in fact "bad"because it exploits their vulnerability (Adler et al. 1980). The question of whetherchildrenunderstandthe intentof advertisingcenterson the notion thatchildrenprogressfroma stateof vulnerability to sophisticationin skills andabilities(Young 1990). Congruentwith this notion, a positive relationship generallyhas been found between age and understanding of ad intent. Whereason the surface this conclusion appearsunambiguous,a review of the literature exposes major conceptual or methodological differences among the studies. Thus, the studies are coded with respect to these differenceswith the intentto clear some of the "muddled thinkingandconceptualconfusion"in this literature.

addressedthe relationshipof advertisingto other variables, this arearepresentsa small proportion of studies in the literature.For example, 21 articles (with 23 effect sizes) met the criteriafor inclusion in this meta-analysis. Most studies have found a positive relationshipbetween of ad intent. That is, as children get age and understanding betterthe intentof advertising.Howolder, they understand ever, thoughthis appearsto be an unambiguous finding, it is not clear what factors influence the strengthof this relationship. Specifically, this meta-analysis addressesthe following questions: 1. Do the studiesassessingthe understanding of ad intentin children sharea common effect size (i.e., aretheyhomogeIf not,whatstudycharacteristics moderate oraccount neous)? forthe variance in effectsizes acrossstudies? 2. What do the results of the meta-analysissuggest for researchers andpublicpolicymakers? After a brief review of the literature,I describe the method. Then, I present the results, including a series of analyses of the involving study characteristicsthat act as moderators relationship between age and understandingof ad intent. Finally, I providea discussion of the findings and directions for furtherresearchand public policymaking.

The Relationship Between Age and Understanding of Ad Intent: Potential Moderator Effects Measurement of Understandingof Ad Intent
Measurementof children's understandingof the intent of advertisinghas been primarilythrough verbal assessments, includingpersonalinterviews(e.g., Macklin 1983) and written questionnaires(Boush, Friestad,and Rose 1994). In the 1970s, almost all of the studies that examined children's of ad intent were personal interview assessunderstanding ments (for a review of these studies, see Macklin 1987). The idea that children are able to articulatetheir understanding of ad intent, however, has been questioned. For example, Macklin (1987) proposes that this task may be too difficult for children and that the conclusion that children do not understandad intent is problematic. Thus, several studies of ad intent through nonhave assessed the understanding verbal tasks (Donohue, Henke, and Donohue 1980; Kunkel 1988; Macklin 1985, 1987). These tasks include having childrenpoint at picturesto demonstratetheir understanding of ad intent (Donohue, Henke, and Donohue 1980; Kunkel 1988; Macklin 1987) or enact the behavior that the product spokespersondesired (Macklin 1987).

Children and Advertising
The researchliteratureon childrenand advertisingis extensive: Over the past two decades, academic researchershave attemptedto determinewhat effects advertisinghas on children. The researchon children and advertisingcan be classified into two primarycategories, each with several subcategories (Young 1990): 1.Cognitive activated as a result of watching andlisprocesses teningto advertising a. attention to advertisements b. abilityto distinguish between andprograms advertising c. understanding of ad intent d. interpretation of advertising content e. memory foradvertisements awareandrecall, (recognition nessof advertisements) f. otherprocesses involved mediators) (cognitive 2. What thechilddoes withthe information processed a. effecton knowledge, andvalues attitudes, b. effecton otherpeople(e.g., parents) c. effect on choice/consumption behavior or othertypesof behavior behavior) (e.g., antisocial Given the proliferation of researchin this area,reviews of the literature have been made throughout the past two decades (e.g., Adler et al. 1980; McNeal 1987; Young 1990). These reviews are summariesof the literature,perhaps using vote-countingmethodsto drawconclusions as to what has been done and what should be done next. However, as Young (1990, p. 39) writes, The research literature on childrenand televisionadvertising shouldnot be regarded as a series of detached experimental each one painstakingly investigations, gettingone step nearer has beenfitfulandcentered on parthe goal of truth. Progress

Type of Intent Assessed
In the literature,the informationalfunction of advertising has been distinguished from the persuasive function (e.g., Macklin 1987; Roberts 1982). The informationalfunctionof advertisingis simply showing productsthat are available in the store (Macklin 1987). The persuasive function, conof four additionalattributes: versely, requiresunderstanding (1) that the source has other perspectives,hence other interests, than those of the receiver;(2) that the source intends to persuade; (3) that persuasive messages are, by definition, biased; and (4) thatbiased messages demanddifferent interpretation strategies than do primarily informational messages (Macklin 1987; Roberts 1982). Similarly, Robertson and Rossiter (1974) distinguish between two types of attributional intent:assistive (e.g., "commercialstell you about things")and persuasive(e.g., "commercialstry to make you buy things").Blosser and Roberts(1985) furtherdistinguish between five types of intent-to inform, to teach, to entertain, to sell, and to persuade.

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Journal of Public Policy & Marketing Althoughmore specific distinctionsbetweenthe five types of intent discussed by Blosser and Roberts (1985) may be has not taken these differencesinto important,the literature consideration. For example, unlike Blosser and Roberts (1985), most studiesseem to equate"selling"intentwith "persuasive"intent.In addition,with the exceptionof two studies (Macklin 1985; Robertsonand Rossiter 1974), the literature has not assessedempiricallythe differencesbetweeninformational/assistive intent and persuasive/selling intent and/or focused on one of these types. Therefore,of primary concern in the meta-analysis is the commonlyuseddistinction between intentand informational/assistive intent. persuasive/selling


Type of Ad Exposure
In the literature,measurementof children's understanding of the intent of advertisinghas occurred in the context of various researchdesigns. Surveys or interview formats, for example, have been used (e.g., Ward, Wackman, and Wartella 1975, 1977). In this type of researchdesign, subjects are interviewedand asked generalquestionsabouttheir understandingof ad intent (e.g., "What are commercials for?""Why do they have commercialson television?")and are not exposed to commercialsand/orprogramming. When the assessment of the understandingof ad intent has occurred in conjunctionwith other researchobjectives (e.g., assessment of the degree to which childrencan distinguish between commercials and programming),measurement of understandingof ad intent has generally occurred after the subjects have been exposed to a series of commercials only or commercialsand other types of programming. For example, Rubin (1974) assesses understandingof ad intent in addition to other factors, such as recall of specific commercial elements. In this study, subjects were exposed to one of two types of commercialspriorto questioning. In othercases, commercialswere embeddedin othertypes of programming.For example, Stutts,Vance, and Hudleson (1981) conduct an experiment in which children were exposed to one of threevideo segmentscontaininga cartoon and commercial, with segments differingas to type of separatordevice between the cartoonand commercial.After the experiment,the subjects were asked general questions with respect to their understandingof ad intent. Blosser and Roberts (1985) expose subjects to different versions of videotapes containingnews, an educationalspot, a commercial, and a public service announcementand then ask them of ad intent. general questions with respectto understanding It is possible that the type of ad exposure (i.e., "no ad," "ad only," or "ad mixed"-advertisements and other types of programming) may moderatethe strengthof the relationbetween of ad intent. For examship age and understanding ple, subjects may be better able to articulatethe intent of advertising after exposure to an advertisementversus no exposure to an advertisement.Merely viewing an advertisement, especially in an unrealisticsetting where no (or few) distractions occur, may "cue" subjects to the advertisement's informativeand/orpersuasive/sellingintent.

majorchanges (for a comprehensivereview, see Wilson and Weiss 1992). Specifically, in 1974, a policy was issued by the FCC that limited the amountof advertisingduringchildren's television programmingto 9.5 minutes per hour on weekends and 12 minutesper houron weekdays.These limits, according to the FCC, "struck a balance between the needs of children,who were judged uniquely susceptibleto commercial influence, and the needs of broadcasters,who were dependent upon advertising revenue to maintain the children's programofferings"(Kunkeland Roberts 1991, p. to sepa61). In addition,that policy called for broadcasters rate programcontent from commercial messages targeted towardchildrenby prohibitingprogram-length commercials that within the body of the promote products (programs story) and host selling (the use of the same charactersin commercials as are featured in adjacent programming). "Bumpers"also were required during all children's proand commercials gramming,which separatedprogramming with five-second segments, such as "And now a word from our sponsor." In 1984, many of the FCC's previous policies were reversed,driven by a shift in the U.S. government'sphilosophy toward deregulation. The FCC argued that marketplace forces should determine the acceptable amount of commercial content during children's programming. No longer was the amountof advertisingduringchildren'sprocommercials banned. gramminglimited or program-length However, the practiceof host selling was still prohibited. Then, in 1990, the Children'sTelevision Act was passed commercialswas by Congress. The ban on program-length reinstatedby the FCC, and a policy that a relatedadvertisement must be separatedfrom the startor close of a toy-based program by some portion of an unrelated program was issued. However, the definition of a program-length commercial was narrowed,which some have claimed is redundantwith host selling, a tacticalreadyprohibited by the FCC. Given these changes in regulation,it is possible that the natureof children's advertising,because it variedover several time periods,may affect the strengthof the relationship between age and children's understanding of ad intent. For commercials,which were banned example, program-length in 1990, may blur the distinctionbetween commercialsand of programmingand thus reduce children's understanding ad intent. Four time periods that correspondto changes in regulation of children's advertising were examined in the meta-analysis: pre-1974, 1975-1984, 1985-1990, and 1991-present. Publication year thus served as a proxy for U.S. legislation enacted at the time of the study.

Publication Type
Meta-analysts generally are concerned with potential sources of bias that may exist in a body of literature.One type of bias that has received considerable attention from meta-analystsis publicationbias (for a discussion of publication bias, see Begg 1994). Most commonly, publication bias is conceptualizedas selective publication.That is, the decision to publish research is influenced by the results of the study, and those studies producingstatistically significant results are more likely to be published.To test for the presence of publication bias in the literatureon children's understandingof ad intent, the type of publication was

Publication Year
Beginning in 1974, policies were establishedto protectchildren from advertising. Since then, the regulation of children's advertising in the United States has seen several

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Children'sUnderstanding of the Intentof Advertising
aratelyas well as in combination.The dataprovidedfor persuasive/selling intentcombined were used for calculatingan effect size, because this was consistent with other studies in the meta-analysisthat had not reportedthose separately. In summary,33 articlesfromjournals, books, or dissertations were identified for potential inclusion in the metaanalysis. Twelve of these studies were excluded because of data duplication,aggregationof samples into one age group, or an inabilityto calculate a correlationcoefficient from the information provided.Thus, 21 articlesfromjournals,books, or dissertationswere included in the meta-analysis.Two of these articles (Macklin 1985, 1987) included two studies, yielding a total of 23 reportsfrom separatestudy samples.

includedas a potentialmoderator by examiningtwo types of publications: published journal articles and books/edited books. The books/edited books category represents an researchliterature formatand thus may be underrepresented to bias. subject publication

Identification of Articles
A computerizedsearchon Psychlit was conducted,covering the publishedliteraturefrom 1972 to the present.The Business PeriodicalsIndex (BPI), which covers publishedliterature from 1984 to the present,also was searched.The keywords used in these searches were "advertising" and "children." Issue-by-issue searches of conference proceedings, including Advances in ConsumerResearch, Developments in MarketingScience, and Enhancing KnowledgeDevelopment in Marketing,also were conducted.In addition,extensive reference lists by McNeal (1987) and Young (1990) were consulted, as was McNeal's (1991) publishedbibliography of research conducted on advertising and children. Reference lists of articles included in the meta-analysisand related articles also were searched. Finally, an active researcherin the area was contactedbut had no unpublished data relevantto the researchquestion.

Coding of Studies
Each study that met the selection criteria was coded for the potential moderatoreffects discussed previously. In addition, each study was coded for gender, race, nationality,and socioeconomic status of the subjects. In most studies, the subject pool was mixed with respect to these features, and data were aggregated;thus, using these featuresas potential moderatoreffects was not possible. As was stated previously, publication year served as a proxy for U.S. legislation enacted at the time of publication. This proceduredid not account for publication lag time; thus, those studies whose publication date was at or near "cutoff' years (e.g., Blosser and Roberts 1985) were inspected for actual data collection times. No indicationof the time of datacollection was given in any study except for Ward, Wackman, and Wartella's (1977), which specified the year of data collection as 1973. Hence, this study was included in the pre-1974 group of studies. Young's (1987) study was eliminatedfrom the analyses for publicationyear because it involved Britishchildren.A list of included studies and their relevantcodes are presentedin Table 1.

Sample of Studies and Selection Criteria
To be includedin the meta-analysis, a studyneededto provide of ad a correlation between age/grade and understanding intentor enoughinformation thata correlation could be calculated.Threestudies(Donohue,Meyer,and Henke 1978;Sanft 1986; Wiman 1983) were excluded because the samples of childrenused were aggregated intoone age group.Otherstudies (Bever et al. 1975; Blatt,Spencer,and Ward 1972; Paget, Kritt,and Bergemann1984) were excludedbecausea correlation coefficient could not be calculatedfrom the information providedin the article.Forexample,Blatt,Spencer,andWard (1972) reporttheir findings as "conceptualcategories"(i.e., of children'sinterviewresponses) examples from transcripts ratherthan numeric summariesby age group. Some studies foundin the literature searchcontaindatapublished elsewhere 1982;RossiterandRobertson1975, 1976;Ward, (Christenson Reale, and Levinson 1972;Wardand Wackman1973;Ward, Wackman,and Wartella 1975). To avoid data dependency, none of these studies was includedin the meta-analysis. The studies included in the meta-analysis also were required to assess understanding of either the intent persuasive/sellingintentor the informational/assistive of advertising. In one study that measuredseparatelyeach type of intent(Robertsonand Rossiter 1974), data were provided for both assistive and persuasiveintent, and an effect size was calculated for each. In all analyses except those involving the type of intent as a moderator,the effect size for persuasiveintent from this study was used. In the analyses assessing whether type of intent was a moderator,the effect size for assistive intent was used to increasethe number of studies in that category from two to three(thoughthe majority of the studies [n = 20] were still in the persuasive/selling intent category). In another study (Blosser and Roberts 1985), children's of persuasive/sellingintentwas reportedsepunderstanding

Calculation of Effect Sizes
For each study thatprovidedsufficientdata,an effect size in the formof r (the zero-order Pearsonproduct-moment correlationcoefficient)was computed(HedgesandOlkin 1985).This effect size representsan estimateof the underlyingcommon populationcorrelationcoefficient between age and underand scale-free. standingof ad intentand is easily interpretable Threeof the studiesin the meta-analysisprovidedthe correlationbetween age and understanding of ad intenteither in the article itself (Faber, Perloff, and Hawkins 1982; Macklin 1987) or through personal contact with the authors (Boush, Friestad, and Rose 1994). Meyer, Donohue, and Henke (1978) providedcorrelationsbetween age and understanding for three specific questions that assessed understanding of intent. I averaged these three correlations to derive one effect size. For studies in which a 2 x 2 table of results was presentedor derived from percentages reported in the text of the article (Christenson 1980; Gaines and Esserman 1981), 1 calculated a chi-square (with one degree of freedom) and converted it to r by a conversion formula providedby Rosenthal(1991, p. 19). One study (Butteret al. 1981) providedchi-squareswith one degree of freedom relevant to two questions that assessed understandingof ad intent. For this meta-analysis, each chi-square was converteddirectly to r, and these two r's were then averagedto

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Journal of Public Policy & Marketing Table 1. of IncludedStudies CodedCharacteristics Measurement Type of Ad Typeof Intent of Intent Assessed Exposure Ad mixed Verbal Persuasive/selling No ad Verbal Persuasive/selling No ad Verbal Persuasive/selling Ad mixed Verbal Persuasive/selling Ad only Nonverbal Persuasive/selling No ad Verbal Persuasive/selling Ad mixed Verbal Persuasive/selling Ad mixed Nonverbal Persuasive/selling No ad Verbal Persuasive/selling Ad only Nonverbal Persuasive/selling Ad only Nonverbal Persuasive/selling Nonverbal Informational/assistive Ad only Nonverbal Informational/assistive Ad only No ad Verbal Persuasive/selling Verbal Informational/assistive No ad Ad only Verbal Persuasive/selling Ad mixed Verbal Persuasive/selling Ad mixed Verbal Persuasive/selling No ad Verbal Persuasive/selling No ad Verbal Persuasive/selling Ad mixed Verbal Persuasive/selling No ad Not included Persuasive/selling Ad mixed Verbal Persuasive/selling Publication Year 1985-1990 1991-present 1975-1984 1975-1984 1975-1984 1975-1984 1975-1984 1985-1990 1975-1984 1985-1990 1985-1990 1985-1990 1985-1990 1975-1984 Pre-1974 Pre-1974 1975-1984 1975-1984 Pre-1974 Pre-1974 1991-present 1985-1990 1975-1984


Study BlosserandRoberts (1985) andRose(1994) Boush,Friestad, et al. (1981) Butter Christenson (1980)a andDonohue Henke, Donohue, (1980) andHawkins Faber, Perloff, (1982) GainesandEsserman (1981) Kunkel (1988) Macklin (1983) Macklin (1985)-Study I Macklin (1985)-Study 2 Macklin (1987)-Study 1 Macklin (1987)-Study 2 andHenke(1978) Meyer,Donohue, Robertson andRossiter (1974) Rubin (1974) andStutts (1982) Stephens Stutts, Vance,andHudleson (1981) Ward (1972) andWartella Ward, Wackman, (1977) WilsonandWeiss(1992) Young(1987) andGianinno Zuckerman (1981)

Publication Type article Journal article Journal article Journal article Journal article Journal article Journal book Book/edited article Journal article Journal article Journal article Journal article Journal article Journal article Journal article Journal article Journal article Journal article Journal article Journal book Book/edited article Journal book Book/edited book Book/edited

article. as a journal in 1982,so it wascategorized Research in Communication aChristenson (1980)waspublished

derive one effect size. In one study (Kunkel 1988), means deviationsfor youngerand older subjectswere and standard provided, so I calculated a Hedge's g and then convertedit to r by a formulaprovidedby Rosenthal(1991, p. 24). For the other studies included in the meta-analysis,r was calculated by correlatingage and grade level with understanding of ad intent. A spreadsheetwas used to enter freof intent quencies of age and grade level and understanding reportedin each study and to calculate a correlationcoefficient between the two variables. In some studies, understandingof ad intentwas reportedin low, medium,and high levels (e.g., Ward,Wackman,and Wartella1977). In others, understandingof ad intent was recordedmerely as success (understandingof intent exhibited) or not success (understandingof intentnot exhibited).For example, Stephensand Stutts(1982) providedpercentagesof three-,four-, and fiveyear-olds who correctly and incorrectly responded when asked, "Why are commercialson TV?" of ad intent was In some studies in which understanding measuredthroughverbalresponses,a series of questionswas used. For example, Blosser and Roberts (1985) asked subjects threequestionsto ascertainintent:"Whatis a commercial?" "Why are they on TV?" "Whatdo they do?" In that study,responsesto the questionswere pooled andcoded, and for those who correctlyarticpercentageswere then reported ulated intent.In other studies that measuredintentthrougha series of questions, percentages were reported for correct/incorrectresponses to each question (e.g., Stutts, Vance, and Hudleson 1981). When percentages were reportedfor each question, I calculatedcorrelationsfor each and then calculatedan averageof the correlationsfor use in the meta-analysis. Ward, Wackman, and Wartella (1977)

provide a correlationof .66 between gradeand intent.Howcalever, this value cannotbe confirmedthroughspreadsheet culations. Thus, I calculated an average correlationof the three questions designed to measuread intentand used it in the meta-analysis. In the experimentalstudies (Kunkel 1988; Stutts, Vance, and Hudleson 1981; Wilson and Weiss 1992), no effect on nor did age of intentwas found for treatments understanding interact with treatments.Thus, deriving an effect size was not problematic. In all studies but two, sample sizes were reportedclearly. However, in Meyer, Donohue, and Henke's (1978) study, sample sizes variedacross threequestionsmeasuringunderstandingof ad intent and were not reportedfor each. Thus, a sample size of 177 was used in the meta-analysis,a conservative estimate derived from informationprovidedin the article. Similarly, in Robertsonand Rossiter's (1974) study, a conservativeestimateof samplesize was derivedand used in the meta-analysis(n = 274), because sample sizes varied across several variablesof interestin that study. In Table 2, I list the studies includedin the meta-analysis of of understanding along with the method of measurement ad intent, correlationsbetween age and intent, average correlationsbetween age and intent,and sample sizes for each. Before averages were calculated,each r was converted to a Fisher's z (Rosenthal 1991, p. 21). Fisher's z values are provided in parenthesesafter each correlation. To estimate a mean effect size (a common correlation coefficient) among the studies in the meta-analysis,each r was transformedto z and a weighted average of the studies (z,) was calculated. Individualstudy effects were weighted by an estimate of the inverse of the variance(N - 3) to give

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210 Table2.

Children's Understanding of the Intent of Advertising IncludedStudiesand TheirEffectSizes Correlation BetweenAge and Intenta Average Correlation BetweenAge and Intenta

Blosser and Roberts(1985)

of Ad Intent of Understanding Measurement
What is a commercial?Why are they on TV? What do they do?b,c Child commercial Adult commercial 12 pairwisecomparisonsof four differenttactics and three differenteffects What is a commercial? Why do they have commercialson TV? What is a commercial?Why do they have commercialson TV? What do commercials try to do?b Nonverbaltask: Point to what Toucan Sam wants you to do. What is a TV commercial?Why are commercialson TV? Whatdo commercials try to do? What is a commercial for? Why is it on TV?b Nonverbaltask: Select a picture. Today we are going to see some TV commercials-what do you think we are going to see? If somebody asked you what a TV commercial is, what would you tell them? What is a TV commercial'?b Nonverbaltask: Select a picture. Nonverbaltask: Select a picture. Nonverbaltask: Select a picture. Nonverbaltask: Play enactment. What is a TV commercial? Why are they shown on TV? Whatdo they try to do? Open-endedquestions adaptedfrom Ward (1972) Attributionof persuasive intent of assistive intent Attribution of commercialpurpose Understanding of what is to be wanted Understanding Why are commercialson TV? Do you know what a commercialis? Will you tell me what you think a commercialis? Why are commercialson TV? What is a TV commercial? Why are commercials shown on TV?


.59 .54

(.68) (.60)

.56 (.64)


Boush, Friestad,and Rose (1994) Butteret al. (1981) Christenson(1980)

.1Oeh (.10) .23 .22 .74 .22 (.23)


(.23) (.22) (.95)



Donohue, Henke, and Donohue (1980) Faber,Perloff, and Hawkins (1982) Gaines and Esserman(1981) Kunkel(1988) Macklin (1983)




.25e (.26)


.25 .17 .37

(.25) (.18) (.39)

104 152 35

Macklin (1985)-Study I Macklin (1985)-Study 2 Macklin (1987)-Study 1 Macklin (1987)-Study 2 Meyer, Donohue, and Henke (1978) Robertsonand Rossiter (1974)

.15 .08

(.15) (.08)

30 30 120 45 .44 (.47) 177

.28e (.29) .49e (.53) .45e (.49) .37e (.38) .49e (.54)

.47f (.51) .02 (.02) .52 .32 .33 .14 .57 .57 .48 .46 (.58) (.33) (.34) (.14) (.65) (.65) (.52) (.50) .43 (.45)


Rubin (1974) Stephens and Stutts (1982) Stutts, Vance, and Hudleson (1981) Ward(1972)


104 108

.44 (.48)

.47 (.51)


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Journalof PublicPolicy & Marketing
Ward,Wackman,and Wartella(1977)g Awarenessof "whata commercial is" Awarenessof "why commercialsare on TV" of purposeof television Understanding commercials What is a commercial? What do commercialswant you to do? What is a TV advertisement? shown on TV? Why are advertisements What do advertisements try to do? What is a commercial? .57 .55 .54 (.64) (.61) (.60) .55 (.62)


Wilson and Weiss (1992)

.16 .53 .34 .25 .33 .59

(.16) (.59) (.35) (.25) (.34) (.68)

.36 (.37) .31 (.32)


Young (1987)


Zuckermanand Gianinno (1981)



of averages wereperformed areprovided in parentheses after eachcorrelation. aCalculations on Fisher's z transformations of thecorrelation which coefficients, of correct werenotgivenperquestion butin aggregate. bPercentages responses usedto calculate thecorrelation coefficient andsellingintent combined. correct to persuasive cPercentages represented responses wasbasedon a group dEffect size estimate of subjects in the"commercial only"experimental group. eCorrelation wasprovided by theauthors. forpersuasive intent was usedexceptin the moderator fortypeof intent, in whichthecorrelation for assistive intent fInthisstudy,the correlation analysis was used. of .66 between levelandawareness of thepurpose of television wasreported to be consistent, a commercials However, grade by theauthors. gAcorrelation wascalculated correlation foreachquestion, andthenanaverage Inaddition, because sizesvaried eachcorcorrelation wascalculated. sample perquestion, relation wasweighted theaverage size in calculating correlation. by thesample hThe correlation between of ad intent atTimeI (versus Time2) wasused. age andunderstanding

more precise estimates greater weight (Hedges and Olkin 1985, p. 231).

Homogeneity of Effect Size Test
Homogeneity of effect size was tested as suggested by Hedges and Olkin (1985, p. 235). This involves calculating

Q = I ( n, - 3)(z,- z)2,
where z is the mean of the weighted z-transformed correlations. The Q statistic has an approximate chi-squaredistribution with k - I degrees of freedom,where k is the number of studies included in the analysis. A nonsignificantQ statistic indicateshomogeneityof effect size. If homogeneityis not achieved, combiningestimatesof effect size across studies is misleading, because the studies do not share a common underlyingeffect size (Hedges 1986, p. 383). In addition, nonhomogeneity of effect size suggests the potential presence of moderatorvariables.

For23 studyeffects, a cumulativeN of 2934 and an estimate of r of .37 (with a 95% confidence interval of .34 to .40) resulted from the meta-analysis. However, homogeneity across all 23 studies was not achieved(Q = 112.36,p < .001). For the analyses for publication year, one study (Young 1987) was eliminatedfrom the total pool of studies,because the subjects used were Britishchildren;therefore,the study did not have relevance (because publicationyear servedas a proxy for U.S. legislation enacted at the time of the study). Homogeneity across the remaining 22 studies was not achieved (Q = 111.68, p < .001, cumulativen = 2811). Because homogeneity of effect size was not achieved in the entire set of studies, moderatoranalyses were undertaken for each potential study effect described previously

of ad intent, type of intent (measurementof understanding assessed, type of ad exposure, publicationyear, and publication type). The studies were categorizedaccordingto each potential study effect and tested for homogeneity within each subgroup (Qw). For example, the set of studies that used verbal assessments of intent was tested to determine whetherthose studies sharea common effect size; a separate test of the homogeneity of the set of studies that used nonverbalassessmentswas conducted.Consistentwith previous meta-analyses(e.g., Brown and Peterson 1993; Brown and Stayman 1992) and recommendationsof methodologists (e.g., Hedges 1986; Hedges and Olkin 1985), studies were deleted in the meta-analysis if homogeneity still was not achieved after subgroupingthe studies. The study with the largest weighted deviation from the mean effect size was eliminated,the mean effect size recalculated,and the homogeneity test repeated(Hedges and Olkin 1985, p. 256). This process was conducted until homogeneity was achieved in each subgroup. Then, tests were conducted to assess whethersignificant differencesamong mean effect sizes for the subgroups exist (QB). The results of the moderator analyses are presentedin Table 3. In all subgroups,except informational/assistive intent as a type of intent, homogeneity was achieved by eliminating one or several outliers. In the meta-analysis,the amount of data eliminatedrangedfrom 10.9%to 42.9%. There are differing opinions as to the amount of data that should be deleted to achieve homogeneity (see Hedges and Olkin 1985, p. 250). However, when outliers were eliminated,the results of the between-group homogeneity tests did not change, so deletion of studies did not change the conclusions drawnfrom testing for between-groupdifferences.For example, the mean effect size for studies using verbal assessments was significantly greater than the mean effect size for studies using nonverbalassessmentbefore as well as

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Journalof PublicPolicy& Marketing
after outliers were deleted. In all cases, a significant difference was found between moderator-level effect sizes.


Publication Type
Finally,a significantdifferencewas foundbetweenthe effect sizes for publicationtype. The effect size for books/edited books (r = .55) is muchhigherthantheeffect size for published reasonfor the variance journalarticles(r = .37). No apparent in effect sizes exists. Forassessmentof the existenceof publication bias, the statisticalsignificanceof each effect size was examined (i.e., Is the effect size significantlydifferentfrom different fromzero(p zero?).Botheffect sizes aresignificantly < .001; using a test describedby Hedges and Olkin 1985, p. biasis limitedin thisbody 231). Thus,it seems thatpublication of literature; the reasonfor the more frequentpublicationof work (i.e., books and edited journalarticlesthanunpublished is not the statistical books) significance of their findings, such findings. becausebothtypes of workhave produced

Measurement of Understandingof Ad Intent
A significant difference was found between the effect size for verbal assessment (r = .40) and the effect size for nonof ad intent (r = .23). verbal assessment of understanding Given the basis for arguing for nonverbalassessment (i.e., that verbal assessments may be particularlydifficult for young children),it is not surprisingto find the effect size for nonverbal studies lower than that of verbal studies. This is of likely due to the higher demonstrationof understanding ad intent in younger childrenwhen using nonverbalassessments (compared with verbal assessments); thus, understanding across ages would be more stable (hence a lower correlation).

Type of Intent Assessed
A significant difference was found between the effect size for persuasive/sellingintent (r = .32) and the effect size for informational/assistiveintent (r = .14). The lower correlation for informational/assistiveintent may be due to more consistent levels of understanding of informational/assistive intent across ages of children surveyed. As Robertsonand Rossiter (1974, p. 17) write, "Persuasiveintent,as would be sophisticlearly surmised, is a higher orderof attributional cation and is dependent upon maturationaldevelopment and, by implication,cumulativeexposureto television commercials."However, as stated previously,homogeneity was not achieved in the set of studies that assessed informational/assistive intent (Macklin 1987; Robertson and Rossiter 1974). These individual effect sizes were .28 (Macklin 1987), .49 (Macklin 1987), and .02 (Robertson and Rossiter 1974).

The first purpose of this meta-analysis is to determine of ad intent in whether studies assessing the understanding children share a common effect size. Given the results, the second purposeof this meta-analysisis to provideguidance for futureefforts by researchersand public policymakers. The results suggest that these studies are variant with respect to effect size. Although the relationshipis generally positive, the strengthof relationshipvaries across studies, and thus drawingconclusions from the entire set of studies is problematic.Several study characteristics were examined and found to moderate the relationshipbetween age and understandingof ad intent. Differences in methods across the studies led to much of the variance in results of studies of assessing the relationshipbetween age and understanding ad intent. First, the results suggest that nonverbalassessments may be more appropriate for young childrenthan verbal assessments. A lower correlationfor nonverbalassessments sugof ad intentis morestableacrossage gests thatunderstanding levels. Nonverbalmeasures seem to disclose understanding of ad intent that was previously undetectedbecause of children's inabilitiesto verbalizethatunderstanding. Second, the results suggest that the distinctionbetweentypes of intent is an importantone. Understanding of the informational/assistive intentof advertisingentails comprehension of the notion that "commercialstell you about things." However, understanding of the persuasive/selling intent of advertising is more sophisticatedand entails comprehensionof the notion that "commercialstry to make you buy things."Third, the resultsof the meta-analysissuggest thatthe type of exposure before measurement of understanding of ad intent("adonly," "ad mixed," and "no ad") affects the level of understanding displayed by children. For example, confusion may occur when a child sees an advertisement in isolation,thusdecreashis or her of ad intent. Fourth,the results ing understanding with respect to publicationyear appearto be beneficial for the advocates of regulationof children's advertising.Fifth, researchersin this area should feel comfortablethatpublication bias does not seem to exist in this body of literature. Guidance for Researchers Several issues should be considered by researchers who engage in future efforts in this area. Specifically, some of

Type of Ad Exposure
A significant between-class effect was found with respectto the type of advertising exposure before measurementof understandingof ad intent. The effect sizes for "no ad" exposure (r = .39) and "ad mixed" exposure (r = .45) are higher than the effect size for "ad only" exposure (r = .29). This suggests thatconfusion may occur when a child sees an advertisementin isolation, because it does not enable him or her to distinguish between programmingand commercials and thus to articulate or demonstrateunderstandingof ad intent.Five of the six studies in the "adonly"category,however, were also studies that used nonverbalassessments of understandingof ad intent. This may explain partiallythe relatively low correlationfor this groupof studies. Publication Year A significantbetween-classeffect was found with respectto publication year. The effect size for pre-1974 studies (r = .51) is higher than the effect sizes for 1975-1984 studies (r = .30), 1985-1990 studies (r = .24), and 1991-present studies (r = .10). This suggests that policies establishedto protect childrenfrom advertising,beginningin 1974, have been successful in enhancing children's understandingof ad intent. That is, perhapsthe understanding of ad intent has been enhanced in younger children,and thus understanding across ages is more stable (hence a lower correlation).

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Children'sUnderstanding of the Intentof Advertising
well. The multiple-itemscale developed by Boush, Friestad, and Rose (1994), which accounts for different types of advertisertactics and effects, deserves attention in further research.This scale representsa significantly different type of verbal measure than the personal interview assessments used previously. Finally, this meta-analysis reveals several issues that largely have been ignored in the literature, which has severely limited our understandingof children's development of understanding of ad intent. These issues include a need for assessing the effects of other methodological(e.g., the types of instructionsgiven to children), social-psychological (e.g., interactionwith parentsand peers, degree and type of media exposure), and demographic(e.g., race, education levels of parents, presence of siblings) factors. For example, as Hite and Eck (1987) suggest, the relationshipa child has with others, past experiences, and the consumer teaching orientation of parents may influence a child's of ad intent. Then, the results should include understanding overall mean levels of understandingacross age groups to assist public policymakers in determining whether all age cohorts are equally in need of protection.

the moderatingvariablesused in this meta-analysis should be manipulated directly in future experimentation. For example, further research should manipulate the type of exposure ("adonly," "ad mixed,"and "no ad") to clarify its relationship with age and understanding of ad intent. Researchersalso should note that an importantissue here is external validity. The "ad mixed" condition, in which children are exposed to cartoons, commercials, and separator devices between the cartoon and commercial, seems most consistent with the currentlegislation, the Children'sTelevision Act of 1990. In addition, future experimentationshould measure both informational/assistiveand persuasive/selling intent. For example, the conceptual and methodological difference between these two types of intentis not clear. Conceptually, these types of intent seem to fall on a continuum from low levels of understanding(the informational/assistivefunction) to higher levels of understanding (the persuasive/selling function). However, the literature(and, consequently, this meta-analysis)has not treatedthemconsistentlyas such. For example, Roberts(1982) argues thatthese functions are distinct and thatthe perspectivea child is able to take determines his or her level of understanding of ad intent. Specifically, if a child is able to take the buyer's perspective,then he or she will understandthat advertising's function is to show products that are available to buy. Conversely, if a child is able to take the seller's perspective, then he or she will understand thatadvertising'sfunctionis to persuadethe audience in order for the advertisersto profit (for a discussion of these perspectives,see Macklin 1987). Thus, further research should determine whether the types of intent are independent of each other (i.e., whether understandingof each type of intent develops simultaneously and/or at the same rate) or whether an understandingof informational/ assistive intentis subsumedby a higherlevel of understanding of persuasive/sellingintent. Although the results of the meta-analysis suggest that nonverbal measures of intent may detect understandingin young children that verbal measures cannot, the development of reliable nonverbal measures should continue. Althoughsome studies claim to measurethe persuasive/selling intent through nonverbal measures (Donohue, Henke, and Donohue 1980; Macklin 1985), this is questioned by Macklin (1987), who argues that a nonverbaltask of asking children to point to "what Toucan Sam wants you to do" of the selling intentof advermay not assess understanding tising. Rather,Macklin (1987) suggests that this task may assess a child's acceptance of advice from the product In addition,Macklin(1985) finds dramatic spokescharacter. differences in understanding of ad intent when the response alternatives are altered in a "point to the picture" task. Specifically, when a more difficult set of nonverbal measures is developed (i.e., a set with additionalphoto alternatives that illustrate the advertised product), children's demonstrationof understanding of ad intent is lower. Thus, furtherresearchshould continue to develop nonverbalmeasures with the goals of determiningwhetherthese tasks are ascertaining informational/assistiveintent, persuasive/selling intent,or some other type of information,and the extent to which the results are affected by the nature of the task. Developments in verbal assessments should continue as

Guidance for Public Policymakers
As was suggested previously, research assessing the extent to which children understandthe intent of advertising is valuable given its value in affecting past and future public policy efforts designed to protectchildrenfrom advertising. The issue at hand is fairness. Legally, advertisingis considered unfairand/or misleading if the children at whom it is aimed are unaware of its intent. Thus, in the last two decades, public policy efforts have been made to ensure the fairnessof advertisingtargetedat children.This meta-analysis identifies specific areas for public policymakers to address. One issue relevant to public policy is whether types of intent (informational/assistive, persuasive/selling)are independent of each other. If they are, guidelines can be established with respect to specific claims made in advertisingclaims may be requiredto aid in developing an understanding of persuasiveintent in younger children. A potentiallyencouragingsign for public policymakersis that effect sizes for more recent studies (versus pre-1974 work) are lower when publicationyear is used as a moderator. Although a conclusion cannot be drawn with certainty, this finding suggests that current efforts at regulation are successful.That is, perhapsunderstanding across age groups is more stable (hence a lower correlation), which suggests that youngerchildren understandbetter the intent of advertising now thanin previousyears. Public policymakersmust recognize, however, that several issues remainunanswered. First, to what extent are the findings of the meta-analysis generalizable?The findings of this meta-analysisare limited to a narrowportion of the population with respect to race. The samples of subjects in the studies included in the metaanalysis were limited to either white (four of the 21 articles) or predominantly white (five of the 21 articles) subjectsamples. Only one article specified a sample of African-American children. Eleven of the 21 articles did not specify the race of the sample. Thus, the results of the meta-analysis should not be generalized to all races. This is a serious lim-

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Journal of Public Policy & Marketing itation of this body of literature, because research has demonstrateddifferent levels of understanding of ad intent between white and African-Americanchildren. For example, Meyer, Donohue, and Henke (1978) comparetheirfindings to Ward's (1972) and find that 56% of the AfricanAmerican children in their study never showed any awareness of the intentof advertising,whereas85% to 90% of the white childrenin Ward's(1972) studyhad at least a minimal level of understanding. Donohue, Meyer, and Henke (1978) also find that39%of theirsampleof African-American children had no understanding of ad intent, whereas 18.9% of their sample of white children had no understanding of ad intent. They thereforeconclude (p. 57) that this is "disturbing in the sense that without the ability to understandthe manipulativeand biased approachtakenby advertisers,millions of younger black children may well be vulnerableto the influence of commercials....[T]hese same black children watch so much TV and so many commercials,far more than their white counterparts." Second, public policymakersshould ask whetheralternative explanationsfor these findings exist. The interpretation of the results with respect to publicationyear is not certain because it cannot be regardedas causal. That is, there is no assurance that the results of the meta-analysisare attributable to changes in legislation. These lower effect sizes for later time periods may indicateincreasedunderstanding due to other factors, such as increasingefforts by public school systems to educatechildrenaboutadvertising.Alternatively, this result may be a function of the fact that more recent studies have used more nonverbalassessments. Third,publicpolicymakersshouldrecognizethatthe small numberof recent studies assessing children's understanding of ad intent representsa limitation.The most recent studies were publishedin 1992 (Wilson and Weiss 1992) and 1994 (Boush, Friestad, and Rose 1994). Because the Children's Television Act representsa majorchange in how advertising is presentedto childrenand was passed only two years prior to the publicationof Wilson and Weiss (1992), our knowledge of the effectiveness of this act is severely lacking. It is hoped that this meta-analysisawakens public policymakers and researchersto the need for more work in this area,parassessed in the ticularly work that integratesthe moderators and the made meta-analysis suggestions previously. This work then can be appliedto answeringa more basic question essential to public policymakers: How and in what ways should childrenbe educatedas to the intentof advertisers?


as children's ability to distinguish between programming and commercials, would establish with more confidence its status as a moderator.Then policymakerswould be better able to establish and/orrevise guidelines for the regulation of children's advertising.As Kunkel and Roberts (1991, p. 69) write, "researchis indeed a necessarycomponentin the policy-making process, at least in those instances in which its bearing is clear and direct."I believe that these research findings in combinationwith those of futureresearchefforts (both primarystudies and meta-analyses)will have a clear and direct impact.

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A Final Note
Finally, it is hoped thatresearcherswill make efforts to conduct and accommodate future meta-analyses. As was the case here, the results of meta-analyses in other areas relevant to childrenand advertisingwill be important in guiding future research efforts and shaping public policy efforts. Accommodation for these efforts will be provided by researchers who report clearly information necessary for calculations of effect sizes and all pertinentaspects of their methodology when conductingprimaryresearch.The unanswered issues noted previously reinforcethe need for future meta-analyses. In particular,using publication year as a moderatorin meta-analysesthat address relatedareas, such

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