In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Psychological Approaches to Advertising and Marketing

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Contextualized Overviews
  • Journals
  • Decision Making and Mediation within the Family
  • Peer Influence and Mediation
  • Children and Brands
  • Effects of Advertising on Values, Attitudes, and Beliefs
  • Underage Alcohol Use
  • Tobacco
  • The New Media Landscape

Childhood Studies Psychological Approaches to Advertising and Marketing
Brian Young
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0094


The relationship between advertising/marketing and children has been explored from the vantage point of various disciplines and can be said to lie at the crossroads of interdisciplinary inquiry. Placing children with commercial communications evokes images of children and the commercial world and challenges conventional social representations of childhood. Advertising and marketing to children can also be considered and examined in the context of consumer socialization—how children adapt to and internalize the norms of consumption and consumer behavior in their culture. Developmental psychological research examining children’s ability to take the perspective of others, their emerging theory of mind, and their understanding of promotional communication has been used to explain how children understand advertising. The relationship between children and brands begins early in infancy and develops into an intrinsic part of the emerging social and personal identity of the adolescent of the 21st century. Growing up in a world of advertising with the emergence of a new media landscape implies consumer socialization with the various ways and different agencies that operate to instill consumer learning in children. As children have limited disposable personal income they have to negotiate within the family for goods and services and this can have negative consequences often called “pester power” or the “nag factor.” Advertising and marketing do not function as agents of influence in isolation and need to be considered in the context of other socialization factors, such as the family and peers. The so-called unintended consequences of advertising can include the cultivation of materialistic attitudes and beliefs. The role of advertising and marketing in the emergence of dietary habits and the relative contribution of these promotional activities in public health problems such as obesity need to be discussed in all their complexity. High-liability products for firms and high-risk products for consumers, such as alcohol and tobacco, are marketed within a strict regulatory framework in many parts of the world; but issues concerning underage consumption in early adolescence need to be evaluated. More recently the radically changing media landscape with social network sites, global gaming, and access to the Internet using smartphones has raised fresh issues about advertising to children. The scope of childhood covered in this article includes adolescence but excludes the marketing and advertising related to planning for and anticipating children within a family.

General Overviews

The first important review in the field was Adler and National Science Foundation 1977, and this was driven by public concern over children’s exposure to television advertising. This source, although providing a detailed summary of the literature, was short on theory; Young 1990 provided a review of research together with a theoretical analysis of children and advertising. Public concern also appears to be driving force behind Wilcox, et al. 2004, and the literature review is comprehensive and the conclusions are measured. Gunter, et al. 2005 extends the theoretical analysis of children’s comprehension of advertising as an interesting problem in developmental psychology. A special issue of the Journal of Marketing Management (Oates, et al. 2003) presents a representative sample of papers from major writers in the area. An overview from China is available (Chan and McNeal 2004). Macklin and Carlson 1999 collects a wide range of relevant papers that provide a useful review of the state of the art at that time. Wang 2009 is a special issue of Young Consumers that examines the surprising effect of China’s one-child policy on consumption practices within families in that country.

  • Adler, Richard, and National Science Foundation. Research on the Effects of Television Advertising on Children. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1977.

    Although this review only provides the reader with research on the 1970s and earlier, the research is summarized in detail. The agenda was established for many years to come with concerns about high-risk products, vulnerability of children, unfair techniques, and long-term effects on the values, attitudes, and behavior of the child.

  • Chan, K., and J. U. McNeal. Advertising to Children in China. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2004.

    Two of the most prolific and highly reputable writers in the field have put together a compilation of research on their work in China on children and advertising. Strong on detail and research findings, very readable and with good background on the Chinese consumer and family from authors with extensive experience of China.

  • Gunter, B., C. Oates, and M. Blades. Advertising to Children on TV: Content, Impact and Regulation. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005.

    Very comprehensive references. Suitable as an advanced undergraduate or master’s-level text in the field. Regulatory issues are covered particularly well and linked to areas of public concern with regard to children (although the emphasis is largely on the UK), and there is good theoretical support of the empirical research reviewed. Limited to television advertising.

  • Macklin, M. C., and L. Carlson, eds. Advertising to Children: Concepts and Controversies. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1999.

    The majority of these papers have been specially written for the collection (although six out of the sixteen chapters can be found in the Journal of Advertising). The selection is wide-ranging, and the editors are internationally known and respected and have gathered a representative selection of papers.

  • Oates, Caroline, Mark Blades, and Barrie Gunter, eds. Special Issue: Marketing to Children. Journal of Marketing Management 19.4 (2003).

    Provides a representative sample of papers covering understanding of advertising intent, children’s own discussions about advertising, young children’s understanding of advertising, Internet use, and attitudes toward advertising. The editorial gives a helpful summary of the papers.

  • Wilcox, B., J. Cantor, P. Dowrick, D. Kunkel, S. Linn, and E. Palmer. Report of the APA Task Force on Advertising and Children. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004.

    A succinct and clear report (sixty-five pages) driven by an agenda that perceives advertising as being targeted at young and vulnerable children and also entering sites (such as schools) that used to be “off-limits.” The analysis is objective and evidence-based and provides a useful summary of what was known at that time plus a research agenda for the future.

  • Young, B. M. Television Advertising and Children. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

    The first attempt to contextualize the extant literature at that time in both the social and historical reasons for anxiety and concern about television advertising and children. Was also the first attempt to provide a theoretical framework to explain empirical findings and provide a research program for the future.

  • Wang, Cheng Lu, ed.. Special Issue: The Chinese Little Emperors: Marketing to Chinese Young Consumers. Young Consumers: Insight and Ideas for Responsible Marketers 10.2 (2009).

    A special issue devoted to China’s “little emperors.” Because of the one-child policy in China and the strong mutual obligations within families based on filial piety, grandparents and parents tend to invest a lot in their “little emperor.” This investment is often expressed as consumption, and this idea is explored as it pertains to present-day China.

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