Children's Purchase Requests and Parental Responses: Results From an Exploratory Study in Denmark

ABSTRACT - This paper reports on an explorative study on children's purchase requests and parental responses in Danish families. While many studies on children's purchase requests and parental responses frequently have focused mainly on purchases concerning products for children, this paper focuses not only on these products but also on products used by parents or the entire family. The results indicate that children make requests for adult oriented as well as child oriented products and that commercials are far from being the only influencing factor creating preferences among Danish children.


Jan Moller Jensen (1995) ,"Children's Purchase Requests and Parental Responses: Results From an Exploratory Study in Denmark", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, eds. Flemming Hansen, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 54-60.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1995      Pages 54-60


Jan Moller Jensen, Odense University


This paper reports on an explorative study on children's purchase requests and parental responses in Danish families. While many studies on children's purchase requests and parental responses frequently have focused mainly on purchases concerning products for children, this paper focuses not only on these products but also on products used by parents or the entire family. The results indicate that children make requests for adult oriented as well as child oriented products and that commercials are far from being the only influencing factor creating preferences among Danish children.


During the past two decades, consumer researchers and marketers have devoted considerably more attention to the consumer behavior of children, for at least three reasons. First, competitions among marketers of products consumed primarily by children has increased. For example, the number of breakfast cereals has increased, and competition in the toy and game industry has intensified. Second, greater attention to children's consumption is also due to the role of children in family purchasing decisions. And finally, and perhaps the most important reason for increased attention to children's consumer behavior is awareness and anxiety about commercials' influences on children.

This paper is mainly concerned with the second issue, children's influence in family purchasing decisions, but also explores the role of commercials in light of the influence of other marketing dominated stimuli. The latter is included, since commercials on Danish network television is a relative new phenomenon.


Children's influence in family purchasing decisions has received sporadic research attention for many years (Ward and Wackman 1972; Szybillo and Tenenbein 1977; Jenkins 1978; Belch et al. 1985). However, as Davis (1976, p.248) notes "the 'family' in most studies of household decision making is in reality just husband and wife." A review of recent family decision making studies (Jensen 1990) concludes that this narrow focus is still very much alive and mostly justified by the selection of products where children are expected to have limited influence. Several studies (e.g. Jenkins 1978; Ward and Wackmann 1972; Belch et al. 1985) provide evidence that children have limited influence on major purchasing decisions involving substantial financial outlays (e.g. automobile and household appliance) and more influence on minor purchase decisions, especially where the child is expected as user (e.g. breakfast cereals and family vacation). Note from this that children's influence on any product seems to depend on an interaction between the child's product involvement and the financial risk associated with that product. Generalizing on this proposition, it is here suggested that children's influence is expected to be a function of children's and parents' relative involvement associated to the purchase in case. Parents' involvement may be a function of financial risk, their role as users and their perception of product differentiation. Although children's involvement mostly will be due to their role as users, it should be noted that children actually do express preferences for the selection of products used by the entire family or even for adult products.

Thus it is likely that for products with low financial risk and/or low product differentiation (e.g. gasolin or rice) parents may act upon their children's preferences. Evidence shows that marketers do have realized the possible influence from children in many purchasing decisions. In an instrumental conditioning way, Texaco a few years ago marketed gasoline with free Turtles stickers to all customers, thereby building preferences (and involvement) among children to influence their parents' brand choice. In a similar vain Kraft General Foods marketed their American rice at children by promising a Matchbox car for two marks from their rice boxes. And finally, in LEVER's commercials for their softner, a cute teddy bear is exposed in order to build preferences among children as well as adults. Much evidence is found from reviewing commercials as well as other marketing stimuli targeted at children. And in addition to emphasizing marketers focus on children for family or adult products, this review also indicated that, at least in Denmark, commercials are not the only marketing stimuli used creating preferences among children.


In light of the ubiguity of TV commercials in many Western countries (especially the U.S.A., where children under 12 years have been estimated to see more than 22.000 commercials in a course of a year, (Weisskoff 1985), it is not surprising that a sense of children's vulnerability to commercials has been the source of considerable debate between marketers on the one side and parents and public policy makers on the other side. One common complaint is that children are persuaded by commercials to consume food items that are nutritionally poor (e.g sugared cereals and snacks). Another complaint lodget against commercials aimed at children is that the commercials make children pester their parents to buy products (especially toys). These arguments seem reasonable and empirical research provides relatively convincing evidence that commercials actually influence children to make more requests for advertised products (Roberts and Bachen 1981). Yet, two limitations are evident from reviewing existing research on commercials' influence on children's purchasing decisions. First, most research has focused on commercials for products where children are expected to be prime user, thereby neglecting the role of children in purchasing decisions for less child oriented products. And second, commercials may not be the only, and not even the most important source of information influencing children's purchases. Many other marketing dominated sources like print ads, in store displays, package design, premiums included etc. may play an even more important role in children's purchasing decisions. This point seems particularly relevant in countries like Denmark where commercials are far from as frequent as in the U.S.A.


Much research has examined factors mediating advertisings, especially commercials effects on children (e.g. Ward et al. 1977; Rossiter 1979). Adler et al. (1982) summarize evidence from many of these studies. It appears that young children are particularly vulnerable to advertising, but as children grow older they develop abilities to cognitive filter the persuasive stimuli from advertising. In line with this Ward & Wackman (1972) found that the number of purchase requests decreased as children became older. While the cognitive developemental approach plays a key role in children's responses to advertising, a number of studies (e.g. Moschis 1985) have pointed out that social variables, in particular the family, may exert an influence as well. Evidence indicates that advertising effects on children are depending upon the parent's communication with their children about advertising. In families with high consumer learning orientation children are less vulnerable to the persuasive affects from advertising.


In light of the considerations listed above the objectives of this study were to answering the following:

(1) How frequently do children attempt to influence purchasing decisions on;

a) products primarily for children (e.g. toys, candy, cereals)

b) products for family consumption (e.g. food, shampoo, tooth paste)

c) parents products (e.g. brand on gasoline, coffee, rice)

(2) How do parents respond to children's preferences within each of the above mentioned product categories ?

(3) What is the relative influence of commercials on childrens product preferences, compared to the influence of other marketing stimuli ?

4) And, how are the above mentioned questions related to family demographics (especially children's age) and family consumer teaching orientation.


Measurement Instruments

In order to provide information on the above mentioned research questions self-administered questionnaires were constructed. For each of the three mentioned product categories a series of identical questions were listed to provide information on childrens influence in purchasing decisions as well as the relative influence of various marketing stimuli.

Children's influence on purchasing decisions: As indicator for children's influence in purchasing decisions were used the number of requests for products or brands as well as parents responses upon the child's influencing attempts. This is in line with many previous studies on children's influence on family decision making (e.g. Atkin 1978; Berey and Pollay 1968; Roberts et al. 1980; Ward et al. 1977). For each product category parents were asked to indicate the frequency of their child's purchase influence attempts during the course of a month. When answering on parents responses, the respondent is asked to refer to the latest request within each product category. Parents are to indicate the outcome as either pure denial without any argumentation, denial after some argumentation, accept after argumentation or accept right away.

The Relative Influence of Various Marketing Stimuli: Refering to the latest request within each product category, parents were asked to indicate what they thought was the "main reason(s)" stimulating the childs request. The following categories were suggested; a)the child had seen the product in tv commercials, b)the child wanted stickers or the like, c) the child had seen the product in a magazine ad, d) the child saw the product in store or e) a friend had it. Additionally, in order to explore the effect of commercials, parents were asked to indicate how frequent their children watch various tv-channels.

Factors mediating children's requests and parents' responses: In order to examine the influence of family consumer teaching orientation a series of Likert scaled items composing statements reflecting attitudes in regard to advertising and children's consumer socialization was included in the questionnaire. Parents were asked, on a 4 point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree, to indicate the degree of agreement or disagreement with each statement. The two scales to be reported on in this paper concerns parents' attitude to teach children, respectively general consumption abilities and the intentions of advertising. Each scale consists of three items as follows:

Consumption Abilities

- It is important that my child learns about consumption and savings.

- It is important to raise children to become sensible consumers.

- It is important that my child learns to evaluate prices when he/she goes shopping.

Advertising Intentions

- It is important that my child knows what commercials try to do.

- It is important that my child knows who is behind the commercials.

- It is important that my child knows the intentions of collection stamps and the like when buying products.

The two scales were examined for reliability by way of Cronbach's coefficient alpha. The reliability coefficients were .78 and .79, respectively, which are well above the acceptable range as suggested by Nunnally(1978). Next factor scores were computed to represent each scale in the further analysis.

Family demographics to be included in the analysis are child's sex, child's age, parents' age, number of siblings, and income.


Self-administered questionnaires were distributed to parents via children attending three elementary schools, chosen on a convenience basis. School personnel handled distribution and collection. From 171 questionnaires handed out, 89 useable questionnaires were returned. The response rate was around 53%, which is normal in this kind of studies. 82% of the respondents were mothers and 18% fathers. The average age of mothers and fathers in the 89 families were, respectively, 37 (range, 29 to 49) and 40 (range, 28 to 49). The parents were fairly well educated, 46% had completed high school or more and the average income level rather high as compared to Danish living standards. 55% of the families reported family income from 250.000 Dkr to 400.000 while 25% reported a family income above 400.000 Dkr. The ages of the children refered to in the questionnaire was equally distributed from 6 to 13 years. In 86% of the families, the child refered to in the questionnaire had one or more siblings.


Purchase Influence Attempts

As shown in Table 1 children were reported to make purchasing influence attempts across all three product categories.

As expected requests are more frequent on products to be consumed or used by children. 84% of the families reported one or more requests on this product category. Within this category requests for ice, candy, and snacks were reported by 42% of the families, breakfast cereals and toys were reported, respectively, by 36% and 32% of the families. Among other child oriented products were other food products, clothes and shampoo. Requests on family products were reported by 55%, and here snack food and other food products were the most frequently mentioned product types. Influencing attempts on purchases for products with parents as prime user were reported by 20% of the families. Among the most common product type mentioned were household detergents and food products. The results clearly support that children's purchasing influence attempts are not limited to products to be used by themselves.





Child's Latest Request: Location and "Main Reason"

The left part of Table 2 shows that approximately an equal number of requests are located at home and in store. Broken down to product types, the only exceptions to be noted are ice, snacks and candy with the child as prime user and the family product category 'personal care'. Clearly, most requests on the former mentioned product category take place in store (70%), not very surprisingly due to the much point of purchase promotion in supermarkets for this kind of products. Despite the low frequency (=5) of requests for family personal care products(shampoo, tooth paste etc.) this category is listed due to the fact that all requests are reported as taken place in store.

The right part of Table 2 displays the frequency of perceived main reason for the child's latest request. Not very unexpected, the key influences on children's requests are mainly attributed to commercials and 'saw in store', but other influences (friends, print ads and premiums) are also commonly reported. Despite the low frequencies, 'main reasons' reported for the child's latest request seems to depend upon the prime user (child, family or parents) and the product type. Note that commercials are far the most frequently mentioned 'main reasons' attributed to the child's influencing attempts on parents' products. Seeing the product in store is an important influence on requests for products consumed by the child or the family, especially ice, snacks and candy. Printed ads and friends are indicated as influences across all three product categories, printed ads especially for toys and food products, which may be due to the widespread of delivered catalogues promoting this kind of products. Despite the rather small frequencies Table 2 do support that commercials are far from the only influencing factor on children's product requests.

Despite the low frequencies and very little significance, an examination of age- and sex-related differences in the above mentioned patterns indicated a few relationships to be noted here. Compared to elder children (10-13 years), younger children (6-10 year) tend to request more on breakfast cereals, toys and ice, snacks and candy. Older children request more on other food products. No sex-related patterns were found across product types, except for personal care products were all requests came from girls. With respect to location, requests in store were more common for younger children and girls, probably due to the fact that these children are more often joining their parents on shopping trips. Finally, it should be mentioned that 'premium' was more frequently reported as "main reason" among younger children and that 'friends' more often were reported as 'main reason' for requests from girls.





Parental Responses

Table 3 shows parents' response to child's requests across product categories. In general, parents' accept is more evident for product requests upon products used by the entire family. Within this category 38% of the parents' accepted requests right away compared to only 14% and 13% upon products for children or parents, respectively. T-tests support that the overall scale mean on family products are significantly higher than scale mean on children's products (p<.05). Due to small frequency on products for parents, the scale mean in this category was not significantly lower than the scale mean on family products.

With no less than 90% of the requests accepted (58% rigt away) food products for family consumption appear to be the far most accepted purchasing influence attempts. Toys and ice, snacks and candy for children are the product types most frequently refused to buy.

Table 4 shows scale means on parents' response depending on location of requests and perceived 'main reason' for requests. In general parents appear to accept more requests located at home as compared to influencing attempts made in store (p<.05). T-tests across product categories show the same patterns for products with cild or family as prime user (p<0.10 and p<0.05, respectively). Response to influencing attempts on parents products seems to be independent on location of requests. In the left part of Table 4 parents responses are broken down on their perceived 'main reasons' for requests. Due to the rather low frequencies, it is not very valid to draw any conclusions from the means displayed across "mean reasons". However, when examining the data, it is interesting to note the relatively high level of accept (means around 2.55) on requests perceived to be influenced from commercials. It might be that Danish parents are less anxious about the influence from commercials due to the fact, that commercials are still relatively new in Denmark.


Prior to examining how children's requests and parental responses are correlated with parents' consumer teaching orientation and family demographics, it might be appropriate to clarify the relationship between these background variables.



Consumption: This scale, composing statements on parents' attitude in regard to teaching their children general consumption behavior skills, appear to be negative correlated with family income (r=-.13). In other words, although not significant, the data indicate that the less family income the more intentions to teach children as sensitive consumers. Interestingly, while no relationship were found between this scale and children's age, father's as well as mother's age were both positive and significant correlated (r=.23,p<.05 and r=.21,p<.10, respectively). This may reflect a more "laissez faire" orientation in regard to children's consumption in todays families as compared to older families. Finally, a t-test approached significant (p=.06) difference in parents' teaching orientation with respect to the child's sex. Appearently parents to girls are more motivated to teach their child consumption skills.

Advertising intentions: This scale, composing statements on parent's attitude in regard to teaching their children the intentions of adverting, were negatively related to number of children (r=-.20, p<.10) and positive correlated with family income (.20,p<.10). No other correlation coefficients approached significance. The negative relationship between parents' intentions to teach children the intention of advertising and number of children are not easy to explain. The positive relationship between income and this scale may be due to the fact, that children in families with higher income generally requets more products. On the other hand, the positive correlation may also reflect a higher educational level in high income families. Parents to girls appearently are more motivated to teach their child advertising intentions (p<.10).

Factors Correlated with Requests and Parental Responses

The results from correlating children's number of requests and parental responses with parents' consumer teaching orientation as well as family demographics are presented in Table 5. Only correlation coefficients above .10 are listed. As table 5 shows, relatively few coefficients were over .10 and even less were found to be significant. The upper part of Table 5 shows the coefficients from correlating parental consumer teaching orientation with childrens number of requests and parental responses across product categories. Apparently, consumer teaching orientation has no relationship to children's requests and parental responses in regard to products with parents as prime user.

Although, the correlations with the consumption scale are rather weak, the data in Table 5 indicate a clear pattern of relationships with respect to parents' consumer teaching orientation. The advertising intention scale is significant positively correlated with number of requests in regard to products with the child as prime user (r=.27,p<.01) as well as products with the family as prime user (r=.20,p<.05), suggesting that the more children requests the higher the parents' consumer teaching intention. The negative correlations (r=-.17,p<.10 and r=-.35,p<.01, respectively) indicate that rejecting more requests is one way parents use in teaching their children to be sensitive consumers. Note that the positive relationships with number of requests suggest that this way is not very effective in reducing the child's requests. Similar patterns were reported in Ward(1972, p.319) were parents who placed more restrictions on a child's television viewing tended to yield less to the child's purchase without any positive effect on number of requets.

Very unexpected, exposure to tv-channels with commercials appears to be negatively and significanf correlated with number of requests. Although these patterns are not easy to explain, they do indicate that commercials do not have any strong effect on children's requests. One possible explanation would be an increased emphasis on teaching children in families were children watch more commercials. However, it was not possible to detect any significant evidence for that. Further, no significant relationship was found in regard to parents' response.

Perhaps more in line with expectations, number of requests are positive correlated with how often children shop with their parents. These patterns are significant for children's products as well as parents' products (respectively, r=.189,p<.05 and r=.199,p<.05). Parents' willingness to accept is negatively correlated in regard to children's product, but positively correlated in regard to parents' products (respectively, r=-1.21,p<0.05 and r=.416,p<0.10). These patterns may be due to that the parents perceive requests for children's products as pestering, but re-quests for parents' products more as a kind of consumer socialization.

Examining the correlations with demographic variables reveal some interesting, but not very clear patterns across product categories. Child's age is negatively and significantly correlated (r=-.33,p<.01) with number of requests for children's products and positively, but not significantly, correlated to parents response on these requests. Thus, while children make less requests on their own products as they grow older, their parents are more willing to accept these requests. T-tests with sex as independent variable indicate (although not significant below .10) that girls tend to ask for more products and get more negative responses from parents. Although neither significant, it is interesting to note that the number of influencing attempts on parents' purchasing decisions is positively correlated with children's age and sex. In regard to parents' age there is no significant relationships. The correlation coefficients in regard to number of children indicate, that children in families with more children make less requests for children as well as adults products. These patterns are not evident in regard to family products, but here the data indicate that parents' response are more positive. Interestingly, despite that the number of requests on parents' products decreases with number of children, so do the accept of these requests. With respect to family income, and perhaps contrary to expectations, there seems to be no relationship between income level and number of requests on products for children. Although not significant the positive correlation coefficient does indicate more accept from parents with higher income. The correlations in regard to family products show more requests and more positive responses as income level goes up (r=.34 and r=.11, respectively). Finally, the correlation between income and parents' response on influencing attempts on parents' products (r=-.39,p<.10), suggests that higher income families are less positive in their response to these requests.


The purpose of this study has been to investigate children's purchase influence attempts and parental responses in Danish families. More specifically the paper tried to explore the following questions; (1) how frequently do children attempt to influence purchasing decisions on products primarily to be consumed by children, family and parents, respectively ?; (2)how do parents respond to children's preferences within each of these product categories ?; (3) what is the relative influence of commercials on children's product preferences, compared to the influence of other marketing stimuli ?; and (4) how are the above mentioned questions related to family consumer teaching orientation and family demographics. Prior to discussing the results, two limitations in this study shall be emphasized. First, the sample is small scale and based on convenience sampling. Hence, generalizing these results to the Danish population are not possible. Second, parents' recall of children's requests and their own responses may not be objective and valid indicators of children's actual influence on the purchase decision. And even more problematic is their perception of major reason behind children's requests. Despite these limitations, however, the results do provide usefull information with implications for consumer researchers, marketers as well as public interest in marketing aimed at children.

First, the results support that childrens influencing attempts are not restricted to products were they themselves are involved as users. Thus, at least in regard to purchases of products were parents are less involved and perceive minor or no product differenzation (e.g. many food products), research on family decision making should pay more attention to children's influence. The importance of children's influence is further emphasized by the relatively high rate of parents' acced to children's preferences. Second, the results indicate that commercials are, at least in Denmark, far from being the only factor stimulating children's influencing attempts. In fact, compared to exposure of commercials, children shopping with parents is more correlated with number of requests. Thus, research on advertising influences on children should not be limited to studying the effects of commercials. Interestingly, parents' responses to requests reported to be stimulated by commercials are relatively positive as compared to other marketing stimuli. One explanation for this, is the fact that commercials in Denmark are relatively new and limited in frequence. Thus, due to limited public interest, it might be that Danish families are not that anxious on children's suspectibility to commercials as compared to other countries were commercials are more widespread. And finally, the number of children's requests seems to stimulate parent's attitudes to consumer teaching orientation, especially in regard to learning about the intentions of adverting. Apparently, this also means less acced to children's preferences.

From a marketing standpoint, the results support that advertising and promotion efforts aimed at children should also be considered in regard to family products and even parents products. The parents' relatively high accept rate on requests with commercials emphasizes the importance of this vehicle.

Finally the results suggest that public interest has better not to overstate their concern on the effects from commercials thereby neglecting the influence from other marketing stimuli.


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Jan Moller Jensen, Odense University


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2 | 1995

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