How Do Children Perceive Ads?

26 Jun 2024


(1) Tinhinane Medjkoune, Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, Grenoble INP, LIG France;

(2) Oana Goga, LIX, CNRS, Inria, Ecole Polytechnique, Institut Polytechnique de Paris France;

(3) Juliette Senechal, Université de Lille, CRDP, DReDIS-IRJS France.

Abstract and Introduction


Legislation on Advertising to Children

Mechanisms for Targeting Children

Usage of Placement-Based Targeting


Related Works

Conclusion, Acknowledgements and References


There is a large body of work on advertising and children. Many of the seminal studies have been done by child developmental psychologists and have focused on ads on television. Next, we present some works that look at a child’s understanding, perception, and effect of ads.

In 1982, in the context of television, Stephen, Levin, and Petrella found that children as young as three years old could distinguish between TV programs and advertisements. Still, they had no understanding or awareness of advertisers’ motivations and sales intentions [56]. In 1992, Bijmolt et al. [6] further investigated the question and analyzed whether gender, age, and parental influence have an influence on whether children can distinguish between advertising content and other content, as well as understand its commercial intent. For this, they conducted verbal and non-verbal measurements on children between five and eight years old. This paper shows that, according to non-verbal measures, most children can distinguish commercials from programs and have some insight into advertising intent. Whereas verbal measures are not as conclusive, it shows that the percentage of children who show understanding of TV advertising is substantially lower. For the effect of age on understanding the ad, the study shows that the older the child is, the better they understand the ads. However, the effect of gender and parent-child interaction is relatively small. Other works such as [43] have shown that children tend to misunderstand the message of ads and focus more on the negative side of the message than the positive side. However, this work has also emphasized the potential positive effect of ads as children can be better informed on many subjects. For example, an advertisement for toothpaste can make them aware of problems with their teeth if one does not brush their teeth regularly. Related to this, a children’s psychology study claimed that young children do not realize that a message (of an ad) can only present positive information while retaining negative information to manipulate the mental state of people [15]. The study analyzed the development of self-promotion in 6- to 10-year-old children. Children were asked to submit a description of themselves to be chosen for a fictional team. Younger children included both negative and positive information. In comparison, older children were better at self-promotion and included only positive descriptions. Hence, older children can understand that ads only present positive information, while younger children do not. A large body of research and reports have specifically focused on the negative effects of food advertising on children [7, 24, 25, 38– 40, 49, 57]. According to all these studies, it is clear that we need to take measures to protect children from possible manipulation and harm from advertisers.

A survey by Raju et al. [51] said that targeting children has been part of the corporate business since the appearance of ads. Among the reasons that push a company to target a child: is the size of the business; there were 14 million children/teenagers between 0 and 17 years old in France in 2018, according to INSEE. The second reason would be the purchasing power of children who receive more and more money nowadays; their consumption is mainly focused on snacks and sweets, followed by toys and games. One of the other most important reasons remains the power of persuasion that a child can have on their parents; a child actively contributes to the purchasing choices in the family, from breakfast cereals to the color of the car to buy. In addition, the children of today are the adults of tomorrow and those who will be able to spend their own money. They also discussed that the content of advertisements could influence a child’s consumption, especially when it is about food. Among other points, they concluded that advertisements targeting adults could influence children’s vision of the world of adults, their preferences, and choices when they grow up.

A more recent body of work has studied online advertising and children [5, 8, 9, 14, 44, 59]. A recent (2020) report from Common Sense [13] analyzed what videos children are watching on Youtube and what is being advertised to children. To gather children viewing data, they asked parents to participate in a study and provide the URLs their children viewed by copying and pasting a list from the browsing history of YouTube [12]. They coded more than 1600 videos afterward according to the topic and analyzed the ads on these videos. They found that about 20% of the videos contained age-inappropriate ads. Other works have looked at the frequency and duration of advertising on popular children-focused channels on YouTube [62]. Jenny Radesky encourages pediatricians to discuss with parents and children the dangers of advertising and explain children’s cognitive capabilities when faced with ads [50]. Finally, three other works have looked at mobile applications used by children: one study provides a content analysis of advertising [42]; a second study looked at data collection practices [65], and a final study looked at the compliance of mobile applications with COPPA [52]. While many studies are emerging in recent years around online advertising [1–4, 16, 53, 54], to our knowledge, no study has investigated how advertisers can target children with ads on video streaming platforms and analyze the available targeting techniques from the perspective of current and future laws.

This paper is available on arxiv under CC 4.0 license.