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Children And Advertising

Did you know?
  • The average American child may view as many as 40,000 television commercials every year (Strasburger, 2001).
  • Children as young as age three recognize brand logos (Fischer, 1991), with brand loyalty influence starting at age two (McNeal, 1992).
  • Young children are not able to distinguish between commercials and TV programs. They do not recognize that commercials are trying to sell something (Comstock, 1991).
  • In 2001, teenagers, ages twelve to nineteen spent $172 billion (an average of $104 per teen each week), up 11 percent from $155 billion in 2000 (Teen Research Unlimited, 2002).
  • In 2002, children ages four to twelve are expected to spend an estimated $40 billion (McNeal, 2002).
  • In 2000, children 12 years and under, directly and indirectly, influenced the household spending of over $600 billion (McNeal, 2001).
  • In 1997, $1.3 billion was spent on television advertisements directed at children. Counting all media, advertising and marketing budgets aimed at children approached $12 billion (McNeal, 1999).
  • Children who watch a lot of television, want more toys seen in advertisements and eat more advertised food than children who do not watch as much television (Strasburger, 2002).
  • The market sales of licensed products for infants increased 32% to a record 2.5 billion dollars in 1996 (Business Week, 6/30/97).
  • Thirty seconds of advertising during the Super Bowl cost $2.4 million (Strasburger, 2002).
  • Four hours of television programming contain about 100 ads (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999).
What's Happening

With children either spending or influencing 500 billion dollars worth of purchases, marketing techniques have been turned upside down. In the past the most effective way to sell children's products was through mom and dad. Now the opposite is true, children are the focal point for intense advertising pressure seeking to influence billions of dollars of family spending. Advertisers are aware that children influence the purchase of not just kid's products anymore, but everything in the household from cars to toothpaste. Thus these "adult" products are being paired with kid- oriented logos and images.

With children's increased access to new communication technologies being paired with the fast pace and busy schedules of today's families, parents are less able to filter out the messages from the advertising world. Children themselves have been asked to assume more purchasing decisions than ever before.

Marketing tools beyond the ever-present television have spread into many facets of children's lives:

  • Magazines aimed at children have blossomed. Many of these magazines are kid versions of adult magazines. For instance, the popular Sports Illustrated for Kids, carries ads for minivans.
  • Promotional toys either tie in to cartoons, TV shows and movies or promote brand consciousness and loyalty.
  • Cartoon and toy characters are used on all kinds of products, seeking to catch the children's eyes and purchases.
  • Databases of child customers are being built from information gathered on Internet sign-ups and chat rooms, from electronic toy registries at stores like Toys 'R' Us, and from direct surveys.
  • Advertising in schools: Advertisers and marketers take advantage of severe budget shortfalls in schools to offer cash or products in return for advertising access to children.
  • Channel One: short news briefs are surrounded by commercials that children are forced to watch in schools.
  • Promotional licensing of products aimed at kids which will include media pitches, e.g., a brand of pagers will include messages from MTV.
  • Logos on all types of merchandise, everywhere children go.
  • Children's radio networks are becoming popular.
  • Children's toys are starting to carry product placements (e.g. Barbie™ dolls with Coca Cola™ accessories).
  • Give-away programs include promotional merchandise aimed at children (e.g., McDonald's™ "Happy Meals").

  • Comstock, George (1991). Television and the American child. Academic Press Inc.
  • Fischer, Paul M., Schwartz, Meyer P., Richards, John W. Jr., Goldstein, Adam O. (1991, December 11). Brand logo recognition by children aged 3 to 6 years: Mickey Mouse and Old Joe the Camel. Journal of the American Medical Association, 266, 3145 - 3148.
  • McNeal, James (1992). Kids as customers. NY:Lexington Books.
  • McNeal, James (1999). The Kids' Market: Myths and Realities. Ithaca, NY: Paramount Market.
  • McNeal, James (2001). Quoted in McDonald M, Lavelle M. Call it 'kid-fluence'. U.S. News & World Report, July 30, 2001, p.32.
  • McNeal, James (2002). Quoted in MacPherson K. Poll of children shows whining wins. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 17, 2002, pA-7.
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 10, 1999.
  • McNeal, James (1998, April). Tapping the three kids' markets. American Demographics, 20, 36-41.
  • McNeal, James (1999). The kids' market: Myths and realities. Ithaca, NY: Paramount Market.
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 10, 1999.
  • Strasburger, Victor C. (2001, June). Children and TV advertising: Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 22, 185.
  • Strasburger, Victor C., Wilson, Barbara J. (2002). Children, adolescents and the media. Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA., p53.
  • Teen Research Unlimited (2002). Cited in Robust teen market offers growth in '02. FN, April 29, 2002, v58, p15.

Last revised: 7/08/02

©2005 National Institute on Media and the Family.