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Effective Communication through TV Advertisements to Children

A Term Paper

Presented to

Ms. Mylene Manalansan

Department of English and Applied Linguistics

De La Salle University – Manila

In Partial Fulfillment

Of the Requirements for

ENGLRES

Second Term, SY 2009-2010

By

Irene Pang

Nicole Uytengsu

December 16, 2009


Thesis Statement: Television advertisements communicate more effectively to children by

overcoming the abstraction problem, memory problem, and consumer satisfaction problem.

I. Introduction:

A. Attention Grabber: Examples of TV Commercials for Children

B. Overview of the Evolution of TV Commercials

C. Advertising’s influence on children

D. Thesis Statement: Television advertisements communicate more effectively to

children by overcoming the abstraction problem, memory problem, and consumer

satisfaction problem.

II. Body:

A. Elimination of Abstraction Problem

1. Product-Commercial Separation

2. Characterization of products emphasizes unique attributes

3. Concept Testing as a useful way to present a product

B. Overcoming the Memory

1. Memory Development of children


2. Individualization of products to give a clear identity

3. Picture rather than words

C. Consumer Satisfaction applied to Children

1. Motion pictures to attract children’s attention

2. Realistic execution of advertisements

3. Motivating scenes to entertain consumers

III. Conclusion

A. Restatement of the Thesis: TV Advertisements encounter difficulties in

communicating to children such as abstraction problem, memory problem, and

consumer satisfaction problem.

B. Closing Grabber: No learning takes place in a vacuum. Although many TV

commercials convey communication problems to children, they still serve as a

learning channel to their growth development.


Television advertisements are crucial to children’s mental and intellectual

development. Research shows that children who tune in to the popular TV show,

Sesame Street, have a greater and faster learning capacity compared to children who do

not (Wright, 1979). This proves that whatever is shown in the television becomes a part

of the children’s knowledge and sometimes even forms the principles and values that will

later develop in them. Television, being one of the biggest and most influencing type of

media, provides the earliest and most crucial things put in the children’s minds since a

child of young age who has not yet started schooling usually starts learning by turning to

the television at home. From the book of Wright (1979), he concluded that a conducted

research provides vital information to advertisers on whether children respond positively

to instructional or entertainment objections shown on television (Wright, 1979). Children,

being and acting their age, will give the most natural reaction to the objects in the

television. It is not in the advertisers control whether or not the children react positively to

their concepts. Thus, advertisers must be attentive to the need of programming

modifications to consider the influence of television programs and commercials to

children.

Uplifted from White’s book (1986), television commercials started to spread

rapidly into the media market in the late 1940’s. The development of this form of media

was so fast that it dominated the corporate world of television media. In their early

stages, commercials looked like a radio with pictures. They were not yet made in film,

but instead, with actors and actresses relying on cue cards as an aid to remember their
lines and acts. The downside is that every mistake that these artists had said or done

will be seen clearly. Nothing could be taken back, and undo’s and redo’s were not yet

allowed by technological limitations. In the later stages, film production was introduced.

During that time, radio shows had their versions of television programs. Television

commercials also started to dominate the world of television through the gaps of several

television programs, where these would be shown to avid television viewers. The very

first film commercials were animations arising from storyboards, scripts, and sound

tracks developed by the advertising agencies. For thirty years, television commercials

have reigned as one of the best medium in advertising. Techniques in these productions

are still continuing to change for a better advertisement (White, 1986).

Television advertisements are one of the biggest influences to children’s

intellectual and emotional maturity. According to the Kunkel and Wilcox’s (2004) report,

more than forty thousand television commercials are watched by the average child per

year. Thomas (2000) said, “the lesson children learn over the years result from…

watching television.” (p. 89) Children at a young age start learning from family members

in the household and from whatever is shown in the television, because they usually

spend most of their time watching television before going to school at a later age.

Children observe actions and behaviors of other people, which they will usually see from

the television, the first form of media they encounter at a young age aside from books.

Advertisers consider children as consumers. They consider producing television

commercials to fit the highly-classified demographics of a child. Most advertisements for

children include encouraging them to buy advertised products or to influence their

parents on buying those products for their use. But according to Leiss, Kline and Jhally

(1997), there are a lot of criticisms on TV advertising, one of which is creating false

needs in people. Wright (1979) said, “Television is the candy the child molester gives

your kids”. (p. 223) The advertisers believe that television commercials only influence
children to buy products, while the opposing group argues that advertising to children is

morally wrong because children cannot interpret and respond as what the normal group

of adults would to messages in the television commercial. Because television

advertisements are mostly viewed by children at young ages, they serve as one of the

foundations in the child’s mental and emotional development. Values, messages, and

actions shown in advertisements will form principles in the intellect of children. These

television commercials might create false needs and messages to children. There are

certain government and media agencies that discuss the impacts of television

advertising on children, which are mostly the negative effects.

The Action for Children’s Television (ACT) proposed that parental guidance is

important to control the children’s exposure to these advertisements. It also said that the

media people should be responsible for putting out relevant, important and non-

exploiting effects on these advertisements. Unfit children television commercials’ airing

time was also changed for a better influence to parents, the real purchasers of

advertised products, than to children. Advertising agencies also consider putting

educational and socially accepted motifs in product advertising when communicating to

children through commercials (Wright, 1979).

Television advertisements have both positive and negative effects to consumers,

especially to unique demographics like children. It depends on the child on how he or

she will respond to the messages and concepts of these television commercials.

Parental guidance is highly recommended for a better understanding, but it is mostly

advised that media producers be responsible and communicate effectively to children

through ethically right produced television advertisements.

Television advertisements communicate more effectively to children by

overcoming the abstraction problem, memory problem, and consumer satisfaction

problem. Advertisers must be alert to what children want to see on the screen. They do
not like unrealistic fantasies and static pictures. They cannot interpret exactly in the way

that advertisers thought they would. They will not remember the product and brand

name. Emphasis on product individualization must also be done for children to

successfully remember the product and not only the personality associated with it

(Wright, 1979).

One of the hardest dilemmas in communicating with children through TV

advertisements is their incapability to understand abstract concepts, thus losing the

opportunity for them to express on the matter evidently. From Kunkel & Wilcox (2004),

critical comprehension of advertising messages cannot be done by children especially

those under the age of eight. Thus, children just absorb and do not criticize those

televised advertising messages. It was also found by the APA Task Force, together with

Kunkel and Wilcox, that children of these ages “lack the cognitive development to

understand the persuasive intent of television advertising and are uniquely susceptible to

advertising’s influence”. (par. 3) They just put all the information they see from the

television and follow it, not being able to distinguish whether it was good or bad.

Advertisements should be as concrete as possible. Children have a hard time separating

their response on the commercial itself and the product being advertised. The findings of

the study of Kunkel and Wilcox (2004) show that children recall content from

advertisements which they have seen and are exposed to and shown many times to

them. But they are still having problems on connecting these contents to the product and

brand names. The only possible solution for this is to ask them questions that help

differentiate the commercial from the product. Questions that compare the product from

its competitor and why it is better are common examples for children to find reason as to

why they enjoy that certain product being advertised.

A more permanent solution for eliminating the abstraction problem is associating

the brand with a fun personality children love. They respond positively to purchasing a
product because it is identified with a character they are likened to. This style will

continue on successfully as long as the personality remains popular. Another way of

characterizing the product is associating it with someone or something unique, even

though it has little or no relevance to the product category. According to Wright (1979),

advertising a secondary distinction, as long as it is distinction, is much better than

advertising a primary characteristic which all brands possess.

A useful way to present a product is concept testing by placing meanings in

context formed by memories of other experiences. This is a hard task for children to

grasp. Young children do not have the intellect maturity to grab the essence of a verbal

statement. They lack the cognitive skills for this. And even though they want to say

something, they still have a hard time forming the words to tell it due to their lack of

vocabulary. One of the recommendations presented by Kunkel & Wilcox (2004) is to

guarantee the language and message used in the advertisement is comprehensible for

the intended audience, which in this case is for the children. By making television

advertisements as concrete as possible, the abstraction problem might be completely

avoided. Advertisers must make commercials that are not only kid-friendly but assuring

that children really understand the message in the commercial as well. Using pictures or

models help interpret product samples better than plain text and commercials with

storyboard frames and sound effects makes the concept understandable to viewers.

One effective way to communicate to children through television advertisements

is by overcoming the memory problem that both children and advertisers encounter.

Children have a sharp memory. They can memorize the Barney song by heart, or even

recite lines of children’s poetry word for word. The problem is that the television

advertisements are not good enough to be included in the free recall of children. They

are drawn to catchy phrases and tunes not because they understand the meaning but

simply because they remember. (Wright, 1979) This is not one reason for advertisers to
exploit the minds of children, since the latter will mumble or sing without understanding.

Television advertisements should be worth recalling to children when they provide easy-

to-read slogans and catchy jingles.

Children find it hard to recall brand names associated with the advertised

products. Usually, the reason why children remember the commercial but not the

product name or the brand name is the concepts for the advertisements overlapping the

information shown. Children recalling the general product are not much of a help to the

advertisers because they might buy the product in other brands. The advertisers should

show and popularize the personality of the advertised product in the advertisement. By

excluding the product from the other brand names, it outstands by recognizing and

accentuating unique characteristics that the product has. Brand names and product

names can be stressed by composing catchy slogans and jingles around them.

One way to help children remember brand and product names is to rely on virtual

interpretations through logos, cartoons, and pictures. Graphic identification aids by

letting the children see and demonstrating instead of verbal messages for a faster recall

and imprinting in the minds of these young children. This is also useful for children who

do not know how to read and write yet. Children at their young age usually learn to see

pictures and draw first before learning the basics of ABC’s. Having brand names or

product names with literally drawn logos is the best way for children to individualize a

product. They also get easily obsessed to these characters and claim them as their

favorite. Once advertisers are able to achieve that, it will be easy to communicate to

these children already.

Children, being considered as one of the consumers and respondents of

television advertisements, should gain satisfaction in the production and persuasion

directed to them. They should be pleased in order to get their attention and influence

them to buy the advertised product. The use of motion pictures rather than still ones
capture their attention especially on how they describe a scene or event in the television

commercial. They want to see not just merely pictures and logos, but product

demonstrations. According to Wright (1979), children like to talk about scenes and not

the product which sits still. This shows that for a television commercial to be effective to

children, it should contain a lot of motion pictures and scenes.

Children are not satisfied by the unrealistic executions which some of the

television advertisements show. “Monster pictures, science fiction show, and shows

which feature cartoon characters are among the best liked and best remembered.”

(Wright, 1979, p. 172) Children, at a young age, can already criticize unrealistic

illustrations and scenes. One letter of a seven-year-old child to a television network

proves this fact. From Winick (1964), a child was correcting the television network about

supposed name of a cowboy. The child also suggested some points on how to make the

television program more real. The letter just shows that the child was not satisfied and

opinions and suggestions were still needed in order to meet his or her satisfaction.

Advertisers must realize that even though they know what children like, it is best to

always screen commercials to kids before airing them, just to be sure the children really

do watch those shows.

Motivating scenes draw the child’s attention into a television commercial. These

motivating scenes do not just entertain them, but also make them want the advertised

product. According to Wright (1979), examples of motivating scenes are the Presidents’

pictures on packages and other limited offerings of the brand. Relaying concepts to

children is not the best factor to advertise new products to children. They want to know,

identify, and remember the product. One type of motivating scene is showing that

someone wants the product. The demonstration of desire in the commercial itself

captures the want of the children for the product. Seeing someone enjoy the product

motivates the children to try the product especially when it is someone they admire.
According to Tang Min of China Daily (2004), “When a commercial is telling kids that it is

better to drink this or eat that, and they do so by showing other children seemingly

enjoying it, the kids most likely fall easy prey to it.” (par. 14) This gives them the

mentality to aspire their own enjoyment of the product. Finally, demonstrating the

product is the most important motivating scene since the children will not only remember

the actions shown in the advertisement, but also will make them want to imitate the

actions. DJ (2007) stated that the only reason the child wants the product is that he or

she is convinced of its ability to satisfy his or her needs and wants. Through use of

graphic and motion pictures, demonstrations can be shown in a television commercial.

Children could have difficulty interpreting abstract concepts and messages but they will

surely not be misled by direct instructions with actions in the television commercials.

Television advertisements encounter difficulties in communicating to children such as

the abstraction problem, memory problem, and consumer satisfaction problem. In order

to overcome these dilemmas, advertisers must be cautious to what children are drawn

to. Being able to identify the things children want to see in television commercials and

what they do not want to see as well, will be of great help in achieving their objective.

Knowing that children at a young age lack intellect maturity, advertisers must learn to

communicate using the former’s vocabulary, frame of mind, and comprehension scarcity.

What adults are likened to are very much different to what kids enjoy watching. Kids

have a different understanding to what adults comprehend and could interpret it in the

wrong or negative way. Associating the product with a fun character or using catchy

jingles, as a means of advertisement will help them remember the specific commercial

shown to them. This will eventually lead to product and brand identification whenever

children are recognizing and wanting to buy the kind of product. Children have an active

and playful imagination, which advertisers must use to make certain their advertisements
are full of motion pictures. This makes them want to imitate, thus remembering the

instructional and entertainment factors produced in the television commercial. Realistic

executions should also be seen to stir the emotions and minds of the children.

Advertising to a highly-specialized demographic of a target market like to children is hard

to accomplish effectively. The key is to make the advertisements as concrete as possible

to channel that communication to children.

Advertising, especially television commercials influence greatly the attitudes and

behaviors which shape our culture through changing times. (Pontifical Council for Social

Communications, 1997) They reach the consumers in the state when they are most

focused to listen and see the products. (All Business Company, n.d.) Television

commercials are very crucial not only to the image and sales of the advertised product,

but mainly to the target market which are the viewers of these advertisements.

Therefore, producing an advertisement is the most important part to make it effective to

the consumers. The most vital factor is to consider the audience, creating the idea and

concept suitable for the target market, and choosing the right air time so as not to target

for the wrong market or influence the wrong audience. Given these facts and

conclusions, advertisers should not oversee this important role of advertising to the

media and people. Instead, they should see this as a big opportunity to give positive

influences by placing right media content in the advertisements. This can be achieved by

putting intellectual, artistic, and moral contented acceptable and comprehensible to the

public viewers. (All Business Company, n.d.) With a target market like the children, it

should be the advertisers’ responsibility to include moral and educational values that are

applicable to their age and lifestyle, and at the same time consider concepts and

entertainment suitable for the satisfaction and positive response of the children to the

advertised product. Whatever is shown in the television advertisements targeting the

children will shape their values and basic knowledge. After all, as said by Pollard (1969),
“No learning takes place in a vacuum.” (p. 110) Although many TV advertisements

convey communication problems to children, they still serve as a learning channel to

their growth development. That is why these advertisers and television commercial

producers should start on studying and evaluating the present problems of these

advertisements for an improved result of children’s responses not only for the betterment

of the advertising and corporate industries, but also for the society. Commencing from

the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (1997), advertising can help develop a

better society through stirring and inspirational concepts and messages that will prompt

them to benefit themselves and the others.


Bibliography:

Books:

Leiss, W., Kline, S. & Jhally, S. (1997). Social communication in advertising: Persons, products

& images of well being. (2nd ed). London: Routledge.

Pollard, M.B. (1979). The growing children in contemporary society. USA: The Bruce

Publishing Company.

Thomas, R.M. (2000). Comparing theories of child development. USA: Wadsworth.

White, H. (1986). How to produce effective TV commercials. Illinois: NTC Business Books.

Wright, J.W. (1979). The Commercial connection. New York: Dell Publishing Co. Inc.

Winick (1964)

Internet:

All Business Company. (n.d.). Television advertising pros and cons. Retrieved December 3,

2009 from the World Wide Web: http://www.allbusiness.com/marketing/advertising-

television-advertising/2592-1.html.

DJ. (2007, May). The effect of television commercials on children. Retrieved December 1, 2009

from the World Wide Web: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/239904/

the_effect_of_television_commercials.html?cat=39.

Kunkel, D., PhD & Wilcox, B., PhD. (2004, February). Television advertising leads to unhealthy

habits in children; says APA task force. Retrieved December 1, 2009 from the World

Wide Web: http://www.apa.org/releases/childrenads.html.

Min, T. (2004, May). TV commercials targeting children. Retrieved December 1, 2009 from the
World Wide Web: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-

05/13/content_330518.htm.

Pontifical Council for Social Communications. (1997, February 2). Ethics in advertising.

Retrieved December 3, 2009 from the World Wide Web:

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/pccs/documents/rc_pc_pccs_doc_

22021997_ethics-in-ad_en.html