Pre-Christmas Toy Guides: a Cross Sectional Research Study

Christian Dussart, University of Ottawa
[ to cite ]:
Christian Dussart (1989) ,"Pre-Christmas Toy Guides: a Cross Sectional Research Study", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, eds. Thomas K. Srull, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 374-383.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, 1989      Pages 374-383

PRE-CHRISTMAS TOY GUIDES: A CROSS SECTIONAL RESEARCH STUDY

Christian Dussart, University of Ottawa

Helping adults to be 'better' parents by providing them with toy guides is very commendable. Yet, parents hold conflicting attitudes towards the usefulness of these guides. This paper presents the results of a cross-sectional research study related to this unusual subject in child consumers research. As hypothesized, socio-demographic profiles and cultural differences have a significant impact on readership and attitudes. Surprisingly, listenership patterns regarding these guides are mass oriented and the influence of higher education on attitudes is negative although positive on readership.

INTRODUCTION

The roles of parent-children interaction and family communication in consumer socialization of children and adolescents have received a considerable amount of attention (Ward, Wackman and Wartella 1977; Burr and Burr 1977; Atkin 1978; Moschis and Churchill 1978; Moschis 1985; to name only a few), but little has been written or said about the interest, receptivity and attitudes of parents towards educational materials designed to help them better educate or guide their children as current and future consumers.

Under this specific perspective, the purpose of this paper is to study the attitudes of parents towards certain toy guides published each year, prior to the Christmas season, and to undertake an objective evaluation of their usefulness

RESEARCH CONTEXT

The research study was conducted in Ottawa, Canada, which is an excellent location for experimental research because of the bilingual and cosmopolitan profile of the population.

Three toy reports are published annually and they are heavily supported in the region through newspapers, radio and television advertising.

Accordingly, our objectives were (1) to measure awareness and usage levels of toy guides within the population under study, (2) to analyze and explain attitudes towards these guides, (3) to delineate a profile of readers and non-readers, and (4) to develop a final diagnostic on toy guides actual and potential usefulness

HYPOTHESES

H1: There is a very substantial decrease from awareness of toy guides to actual readership.

Previous research shows that parental influence on their offspring has a greater likelihood of being higher at the information-seeking stage than at the product-evaluation stage (Moschis and Moore 1979a, 1983), for higher risk products, but it tends to be lower for specialty goods. In addition, parental influence is inversely related to age (Moschis et al. 1977; Moschis and Moore 1979b). Consequently, we may expect this influence to be high for toys, favoring a need for information tools such as toy guides.

Interestingly, previous studies either directly or indirectly related to protectionist magazines suggest that toy guides may only reach a limited, although sizeable, segment of 'socially conscious' consumers (c. 15 percent), be they called consumerists, consumer activists, or otherwise (Hustad and Pessemier 1973; Bourgeois and Barnes 1979; Englewood, Anderson and Becker 1980).

Taking everything into account, and considering the substantial advertising pressure deployed every year for these guides during the pre-Christmas period, we hypothesized that there is a high level of awareness in toy guides but a lack of genuine interest among parents. In-other words, we expected a considerable decrease from awareness (over 75%) to actual readership (under 25%).

H2: A specific socio-demographic profile of toy guide readers can be defined, which differs significantly from the overall profile of the population under study.

Here again, parental influence has been found to be affected by the child's socio-demographic characteristics (Moschis 1985) and to vary among families of different socio-economic backgrounds (Hess 1970; Ward and Wackman 1973). Indeed, the influence of parents tends to be higher in the upper classes (Moschis and Moore 1979a).

Consequently, and in reference with comparable studies in related areas of consumerism published in Canada (Bourgeois and Barnes 1979; Belley, Hamel and Masse 1980), we anticipated that parents who consult toy guides and take their recommendations into consideration have a very different basic sociodemographic profile, comparable to the profile observed for parents actively involved in the education of their children as consumers. Moreover, these parents are not expected to have had as much exposure to broadcast media compared to the so-called average consumer.

H3: Awareness, usage and attitudes components will differ significantly among English and French Canadians.

Many cross-cultural studies in consumer behavior have suggested that parents from different cultures and sub-cultures hold very different attitudes towards their families, their children, and other dimensions related to their education (Plummer 1977, Moschis and al. 1983, Moschis and Moore 1984). This is particularly true for research conducted on general cultural differences between English and French Canadians (Mallen 1973; Chebat and Henault 1974).

In a more descriptive context, official statistics in Canada reveal significant differences in toy expenditures and other child-oriented products and services between provinces, as well as between French and English Canadians (Statistics Canada 1982).

METHOD

Sample

The basic unit of analysis was defined as Canadians having children aged 10 or younger. A total of 614 respondents were interviewed by telephone, using a stratified sampling procedure whereby we equally divided the sample between English and French Canadians. The response rate among eligible respondents was high (81%), which may either be due to high interest in the subject or simply because consumers were responsive to the academic nature of the research, which was clearly specified during the interview. The study was conducted just after Christmas to limit the amount of memory erosion among respondents. Sampling error was calculated to be 1.8% at a 95% confidence level.

Questionnaire Design

The questionnaire was of a maximum twelve minute duration and, when translated, terminology validity was controlled by using the back-procedure. Both language versions were pre-tested among a sample of 60 French and English respondents.

Data Structure and Analysis

The dependent variable was an attitudinal measure (on a five-point Likert scale) comprised of 14 statements, sub-divided into the three basic components relating to attitudes: the cognitive (7), affective (2) and conative (3). The statements were developed through personal interviews during a prestudy and accurately reflect the parents' point of view. The actual statement formulations are presented in Table 4. The reliability of the attitudinal measurement was assessed using the Cronbach alpha coefficient, which reached a very acceptable level of .80 for the 14 statements, without rejecting any of them.

General and specific awareness, usage patterns, information sources, spontaneous reasons for refusing to buy a toy and the classical set of sociodemographic variables were also obtained during the course of the interview.

RESULTS

Awareness and Usage Levels

On the total sample, 79.8% claimed that they are aware of toy guides. Cross-tabulating general awareness by classification variables, and looking at Chi-square and related Phi and Cramer's V coefficients, awareness tends to be higher among women, increases significantly with age, number of children, levels of education and income. General awareness is also slightly better among French Canadians than their counterparts.

Among parents aware of toy guides, 17.1% did not recall, even after aiding, the name of at least one toy guide. Recall was lower among men, younger parents, and those with lower levels of education. Finally, only 50% of these parents were able to

identify the guide(s) they had actually consulted. This overall low level of specific retention was, nevertheless, relatively better among 30 to 35 year olds, parents with two children, and consumers with lower levels of education.

In examining behaviors directly or indirectly related to toy guides, usage levels are quite low (Table 1). Usage rates appear to be positively related to level of education and household income, and vary somewhat between the two language communities. Cross-tabulations of alternative usage behaviors show that 89% of respondents having their own copy and 90% of those subscribing to a consumer magazine do not consult a toy guide in a public library. Among consumer magazine subscribers, 58% claim that they have their own copy. In fact, one of the guides is inserted into a pre-Christmas edition of 'Protect Yourself' magazine. Consequently, even by combining the multiple behaviors directly or indirectly related to toy guides, the overall approximation of readership does not exceed 25%.

Finally, the profile of a potential toy guide user may be described as follows: predominantly older, higher educated, French Canadian, with a higher family income.

These preliminary results partially confirm our hypotheses; first, there is a substantial decrease from awareness to actual readership, which is defined as buying a copy, consulting it in a library or subscribing to a consumer protection magazine; second, a toy guide user profile exists; third, there are some cultural differences between the English and French communities.

However, the apparent lack of interest in toy guides contradicts the high involvement demonstrated by respondents during the interview. This contention is supported by the fact that (1) 73.2% spontaneously cite at least one good reason for refusing to buy a toy, and (2) their main concern relates to the danger a toy may represent i.e. safety concerns (Table 2). There are no major variations between the subgroups, excepting that those with higher education and families with more children are not as concerned about danger, perhaps because they are more confident in their own judgment.

Logically, and as specified in the development of Hypothesis One, high levels of perceived risk in toy usage should mean that toy guides have wide readership, yet we have found that readership is

relatively low. This observed contradiction suggests that toy guides available on the market may not be properly adapted to the needs of the targeted population.

Sources of Information

Sources of information for toy guides relate predominantly to mass media (with exception of radio, which is relatively unimportant in this case), and interpersonal discussions (Table 3).

Some sources of information appear to be more appropriate for certain types of consumers. For example, newspapers or magazines are more likely to reach older well-educated parents and those with higher incomes. Radio is much more efficient in reaching parents with lower incomes, while French Canadian women and more educated people in-general rely more on acquaintances to obtain information on toy guides.

TABLE 1

BEHAVIOR DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY RELATED TO TOY GUIDES

TABLE 2

SPONTANEOUS REASONS FOR REFUSING TO BUY A TOY (MULTIPLE RESONSES)

TABLE 3

SOURCES OF INFORMATION CONCERNING TOY GUIDES: A DESCRIPTIVE ANALYSIS

Referring to findings from previous empirical studies, these results are consistent and conform with general knowledge regarding differences between social and cultural communities in Canada. Nevertheless, these listenership results do not correspond to the consumerist segment, but rather to the more average consumers market.

General Attitudes

The first descriptive analysis of attitudes towards toy guides, among parents aware of their existence, reveals a very controversial profile with many extremes and very high standard deviations within responses (Table 4). At the cognitive level, the quality and clarity of information presented in toy guides are highly regarded; although honesty and confidence are rated above average, the guides are judged to be somewhat incomplete, quite useless, containing inaccurate toy evaluations and poorly presented results.

The two affective statements reflect these controversial beliefs. Stated interest in these guides and pleasure in consulting them are only slightly above average and seem to generate a substantial amount of variance within the responses.

Finally, the conative dimension is split between the actual personal influence these guides have within the decision process, which is very low, and their "raison d'etre" per se, which is more fully ratified. The basic profile can be summarized as 'what is good for others may not be as appropriate for me!'

In summary, the contradictory reactions to-toy guides generate successive reactions along the hierarchy of effects, which results in a lack of personal interest and usage, although their existence is not questioned.

By conducting a cross-sectional analysis of attitudinal scores through a one-way analysis of variance with F ratios, it is clear that, in order of relative importance, mother tongue, level of education and, to a somewhat lesser extent, gender significantly affect attitudes at all levels (Table 4).

In comparison to English Canadians, members of the French community clearly hold more positive perceptions in terms of usefulness, honesty and accuracy of toy guides. However, members of both communities are as critical of the quality and completeness of the information. Although francophone respondents use the guides less often, they express more interest, are more likely to suggest extending the reports to all types of children's products, and advocate more systematic usage by parents.

More highly educated respondents tend to be more critical of the quality, completeness, utility, honesty, and accuracy of the information provided. Consequently, they express less interest, are not as likely to think that all children's products should be evaluated in consumer guides and that all parents should consult them. Moreover, they are not as willing to recommend them. In this context, toy guides do not fulfill their specific needs and appear to be much more well accepted by those with lesser education (no college degree).

TABLE 4

ATTITUDES TOWARDS TOY GUIDES: A CROSS-SECTIONAL ANALYSIS (ONE WAY ANALYSIS OF VARIANCE/F RATIO)

TABLE 5

PRINCIPAL COMPONENT ANALYSIS ON COGNITIVE STATEMENTS ONLY (VARIMAX ROTATION)

Finally, women are much more positive than men on many of the attitudinal components (quality of information, easy to understand, honesty). As a result, they feel more confident, are more likely to consult them, acknowledge the guide's influence on their buying decisions and use them-more systematically. This overall positive attitude induces women to be in favor of systematic inclusion of all children's products in these guides, which corresponds to the usual sex role of women for these types of products.

Age of respondent and number of children have very specific effects: older people are much more critical of the honesty of the guides and, consequently, tend to advocate more limited usage and reject an extension to all children's products, which is consistent with results of previous research on parental influence (Moschis 1985). Influence and willingness to recommend these guides also decrease among parents having larger families, which may be a result of 'experience' rather than disillusionment.

At this stage of the analysis, our results partially confirm our second and third hypotheses. French Canadians and women are among the more systematically positive, older people and/or parents with more children are critical of specific points and more highly educated people demonstrate above average analytical evaluations.

Overall, it appears that honesty, completeness and accuracy play a significant role in the development of general attitudes and usage.

Attitude-To-Behavior Link

To better understand the relationship between attitudes and behavior, we performed a principal component analysis among cognitive statements only, which enabled us after a varimax rotation to extract two key components. The first component relates to 'trustability' of toy guides and the second component to their 'accurateness', explaining 30.2% and 17.2% of the variance, respectively (Table 5).

By saving the factor scores in an active file using the regression method and proceeding to a one way analysis of variance among potential explanatory variables, such as mother tongue, gender, having/not having their own copy, declared usage, level of influence, 'like to consult' and recommendation to other parents, we gained more insight into the attitude-to-behavior relationship (Figure 1).

Affective reaction ('like to consult'), declared influence and the normative role these guides should play among parents, are strongly and positively related to the trustability component. Nevertheless, it is symptomatic to note that the more positive respondents feel about trustability, the more they tend criticize the accurateness. This is particularly true for the normative role and may be explained by the fact that people who think that these guides are essential for parents, develop very high expectations concerning the content and, as such, the accuracy of the information does not meet their standards.

This major trend in attitudinal reactions is the same for 'possession status' and frequency of usage. Those who possess their own copy and/or more frequent users are much more critical of the accuracy of information provided by toy guides. Even women who are systematically positive follow the same trend, which may explain their tendency to limit frequency of usage. Only French Canadians are globally positive on both components, but they still react more favorably on perceived reliability than on accuracy.

Generally speaking, and in summary, trustability appears to be a motor factor and the lack of information accuracy seems to play an inhibitor role.

FIGURE 1

PLOTS OF FACTOR SCORES: VARIANCES FOR ATTITUDINAL, USAGE AND BASIC DESCRIPTIVE VARIABLES

DISCUSSION

Research Conclusions

In conclusion, our working hypotheses were generally supported by the data. There is a substantial decrease from awareness, to interest, to usage (less than 25%) which indicates a very reductive funnelling process along the classical stages of the hierarchy of effects. Readership is linked to a specific profile which is consistent with the one generally described in previous research studies conducted in the complementary areas of consumer socialization of children and consumerist segment profiles. In our case, the toy guides studied appear to reach many higher educated people and those with higher incomes. Nevertheless, these people demonstrate much more negative attitudes which may be due, in part, to the fact that the information content of these guides does not respond effectively to their expectations. Moreover, even if as stated by Moschis (1979) the purposive training of children is more likely to be present in upper class than in lower social class families, parents with higher education may feel more confident and independent to provide such training, and perhaps are more critical. Finally, and in reference to our third hypothesis, the fact that French Canadians are more positive towards toy guides is consistent with results obtained in other studies related to children and toys, and supports the notion of cultural differences.

A possible limitation of our research is that situational factors may have exacerbated the substantial decrease in the awareness-to-usage rates. Clearly, toy guides with superior content design should perform better, which leads us to believe that this type of study should be replicated elsewhere before further generalizations can be made.

Future research might also include other pertinent explanatory variables such as family consumption patterns (McLeod and Chaffee 1972), sex of the child and type of risk perceived. Perhaps, a more 'reciprocal' view of family decision making would reveal some interesting findings in this area (Ekstrom, Tansuhaj and Foxman 1987), as well as generate clues as to the roots of parental concern that mediate attitudes and reactions (Grossbart and Crosby 1984: Carlson and Grossbart 1988).

Managerial Implications

Within our sample universe, demand for toy guides appears to be very real and potentially high. However, current offerings do not fulfill consumer expectations, which generates controversial reactions and rejection.

An in-depth review of information policy and presentation of the information in toy guides would undoubtly help to improve this situation.

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