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Targeting tele tots

Any parent with a pre-schooler who watches commercial television will be all too familiar with whiny versions of phrases such as, “I want that!” A senior lecturer in marketing, Dr Leah Watkins, is researching how influential television advertising directed at under-fives really is.

“My interest is in consumer socialisation – how do very young children learn consumption habits – and, in particular, how do their materialistic orientations and brand knowledge develop early on. There's quite a lot of literature looking at older children, but very little looking at under-fives who are being increasingly targeted as consumers.”

With the support of a University of Otago research grant, she is surveying parents through Dunedin pre-schools and kindergartens on whether their children being exposed to television advertising is a concern and what strategies they have in place to try to limit advertising exposure. She will then interview the children and parents of 40 local families with pre-schoolers who watch commercial TV and 40 families with under-fives whose viewing is restricted.

Watkins has a personal as well as a professional interest in the outcome of the research. The mother of three young children, including a pre-schooler, doesn't allow her children to view commercial television, but lets them watch pre-recorded non-commercial programmes and DVDs.

“Even though my children have never watched commercial television I don't know that their brand knowledge is any different from children who do. They are still incredibly aware – they still talk about McDonalds – in a way that you think, 'where does that come from?'.”

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