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Kiwis favour banning TV advertising to pre-schoolers


Friday 26 August 2016 10:11am

kid watching TV image

The majority of New Zealanders believe that advertising to children is unethical and that television advertising to pre-schoolers should be banned, new University of Otago research suggests.

The findings emerge from research by the Children and Marketing research group in the Department of Marketing into public and parental perceptions of TV advertising and are published in the September issue of the International Journal of Consumer Studies.

The research also reveals widespread concern among parents that advertising to young children positions them as consumers, promotes materialism, and encourages consumption as a social expectation.

Article lead author Senior Lecturer, Dr Leah Watkins, says the effects and ethics of TV advertising to children is a growing concern internationally.

“Pre-schoolers are considered especially vulnerable as they don’t yet have the cognitive abilities to understand the purpose of advertising and are more susceptible to being influenced by it,” Dr Watkins says.

In their first study, the researchers included three related questions in a nationally representative online survey of New Zealand consumer lifestyles. This study gathered responses from 2059 participants on a range of attitude, opinion and behaviour questions.

Asked whether it was ethical to advertise to children, 59 per cent of respondents disagreed while 60 per cent agreed that such advertising should at least be restricted. Outright banning of TV advertising aimed at pre-school children was supported by 55 per cent of respondents.

The Otago researchers’ second study examined parental concerns about and attitudes toward television advertising and involved a survey of more than 500 parents of pre-school children.

Seventy-eight per cent of those surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that “TV advertising leads children to make unreasonable purchase demands on their parents”. Nearly all (95 per cent) agreed or strongly agreed that such advertising “makes children want things they do not really need”.

When the statement “Television advertising aimed at pre-school children should be restricted” was put to the parents, 82 per cent agreed or strongly agreed. Fifty-six per cent agreed or strongly agreed that TV advertising to these children should be banned, mirroring the level of support for this move found in the survey of the public.

Eighty per cent of those surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that parents have overall responsibility for deciding what advertising their children are exposed to with 60 per cent reporting that they deliberately limited their pre-schoolers’ advertising exposure.

“Parents used a variety of strategies to do this. These included restricting channel selection (68 per cent), programme choice (67 per cent) and viewing times (55 per cent). Restricting the total amount of viewing time (53 per cent), restricting children to videos or DVDs (32 per cent) and banning television (11 per cent),’ Dr Watkins explains.

How much television are pre-schoolers watching, and when?

Twenty-nine per cent of parents reported that during a typical weekday their pre-schooler watched one hour of television, while a further 25 per cent reported two hours of viewing. Sixteen per cent of families said their pre-schooler watched no television at all.

The median viewing time for pre-schoolers was 1-2 hours during the week and 2-3 hours at weekends.

Dr Watkins says that while the television industry self-regulates by banning advertising between 6-7am, 8.15-10am and 2-3.30pm on weekdays, the researchers found that there was little overlap between these times and pre-schoolers’ actual viewing habits.

“These children were primarily watching between the hours of 6-9 am and 3-7 pm on weekdays with peak viewing times reported as 7-8 am and 4-5 pm. Industry self-regulation is clearly out of step with the reality of pre-schoolers’ viewing habits and the level of advertising restriction that parents desire.”

For more information, contact:

Dr Leah Watkins
Senior Lecturer
Department of Marketing
Otago Business School
University of Otago
Tel: 64 3 479 8168

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