Children's Reactions to Television Advertising For Toys (Abstract)


Gerald J. Gorn and Marvin E. Goldberg (1974) ,"Children's Reactions to Television Advertising For Toys (Abstract)", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 01, eds. Scott Ward and Peter Wright, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 115-117.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1974    Pages 115-117


Gerald J. Gorn, Faculty of Management, McGill University

Marvin E. Goldberg, Faculty of Management, McGill University

[The authors would like to express their gratitude to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, McGill University, Brandeis University, and the Associates Workshop in Business, University of Western Ontario for their support of this research. Thanks are also due Mattel of Canada and CFCF-TV for their cooperation.]

[Gerald J. Gorn is Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science, McGill University. Marvin E. Goldberg is Assistant Professor of Consumer Behavior, McGill University.]

Of the few studies which have focused directly upon the issue of T.V. advertising directed at children, most if not all have employed either structured observation, or survey methodology (Wells, 1965; Berey and Pollay, 1968; Ward and Robertson, 1970; Ward and Wackman, 1972). Few if any have employed a controlled experimental design.

Given the history of experimental studies in the literature dealing with T.V. violence and children, and its relative absence in the literature focusing upon T.V. advertising and children, the use of such methodology to study T.V. commercial effects on children would seem well-warranted.

The present study, experimentally investigated the effects of expectancy and T.V. commercials using an expectancy-value model. In a 3 x 3 factorial design, eight to ten year old boys (N = 133) were presented with low, moderate or high expectancies of winning a toy, followed by 0, 1 or 3 exposures to a T.V. commercial for the toy. The main dependent variable consisted of the length of time S's worked on a (close to unsolvable) experimental puzzle in order to win an advertised toy. Measures of affect were also obtained in order to examine the effect of the commercials upon relevant attitudes.

Two primary questions were raised in this research. 1) Do the number of commercials for a particular product to which a child is exposed affect his desire for the product? 2) Does a child's level of expectancy, that is, his subjective probability of getting the product advertised, affect his desire for it? Moreover what is the nature of the interaction between the two?



The S's are very briefly shown a new toy called Cool Cast, not yet on the market nor advertised. A second less attractive toy (Hot Wheels) is also introduced in the same manner. Baseline measures of affect toward each toy are obtained. In addition a comparative affect measure, in which the S is asked which of the two toys he would rather get, is also obtained. Level of expectancy is then manipulated by telling the children that the experimenter has only 1 (low expectancy), 8 (moderate expectancy) or 14 (high expectancy) toys for the 15 boys run in each cell. To win the toy the children are told they will later have to solve a puzzle. If they are the 1st (or among the first 8 or 14 boys) to solve the puzzle they will win the toy. They are also told that if they decide to quit the task before the 1, (8 or 14) boy(s) solve the puzzle they will receive a set of two Hot Wheels. However, if they are still working on the puzzle after the 1 (8 or 14) boy(s) solve the puzzle they will win nothing. The task is thus structured so that the boys are motivated to solve the puzzle to win the (soon to be advertised) Cool Cast and motivated to quit by the (less attractive) Hot Wheels.

The children are then shown a Flintstone program on video tape with either 0, 1 or 3 commercials inserted. The pre-measures of affect regarding each toy, as well as the comparative affect question (Cool Cast versus a set of 2 Hot Wheels) are repeated following the program and commercials. The children are then directed to individual cubicles where they work on the experimental puzzle. Given the fact that the puzzle is close to unsolvable, persistence at the task should be a function of motivation for the toy. When a child decides to stop he leaves the cubicle. The experimenter notes the time each S worked on the puzzle.


The results of this experiment indicated that there were significant commercial and expectancy effects on both attitude and the time worked at the task; but no significant interaction. Compared to O commercials, one commercial produced a more favorable attitude and increased persistence at the task. There was no significant difference between the effects of 1 and 3 commercials. High expectancy led to both more favorable attitudes toward the toy and increased persistence at an insoluble task to win the toy. The effects of expectancy on attitude suggesting that people value a reward that is easier to obtain more than one that is harder to obtain, is in sharp contrast with the findings of achievement motivation studies. In achievement oriented situations, where intrinsic rewards are salient, people value successful completion of a difficult task more than successful completion of an easy task.

In addition, while most researchers have combined expectancy and value in a multiplicative fashion, (Lewin et al., 1944; Edwards, 1954, 1955; Atkinson, 1957; Feather, 1961), the lack of interaction between expectancy and commercials in this particular research suggests that at least in some situations expectancy and value may be additive.


Atkinson, J. W., "Motivational Determinants of Risk-Taking Behavior". Psychological R view, 1957, 359-372.

Berey, L. A. and Pollay, R. W., "The Influencing Role of the Child in Family Decision Making". Journal of Marketing Research, 1968, 5, 70-72.

Edwards, W., "The Theory of Decision Making". Psychological Bulletin, 1954, 55, 380-417.

Edwards, W., "The Prediction of Decisions Among Bets". Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1955, 50, 201-214.

Feather, N. T., "The Relationship of Persistence at a Task to Expectation of Success and Achievement Related Motives". Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology, 1961, 63, 552-561.

Lewin, K., Dembo, T., Festinger, L., and Sears, P. S., "Level of Aspiration" in J. McV. Hunt (Ed.), Personality and the Behavior Disorders. New York: Ronald, 1944, 333-378.

Ward, S. and Robertson, T. S., "Family Influences on Adolescent Consumer Behavior", a paper presented to the First Annual Conference, Association for Consumer Research, Amherst, Massachusetts. August 1970.

Ward, S., Robertson, T. S., and Wackman, D., "Children's Attention to Television Advertising", Proceedings: Association for Consumer Research, ed. David M. Gardner, 1971, 143-156.

Ward, S., and Wackman, D., "Television Advertising and Intra-Family Influence: Children's Purchase Influence Attempts and Parental Yielding" in press, Journal of Marketing Research, 1972.

Wells, W. D., "Communicating with Children". Journal of Advertising, 1965, 5, 2-24.



Gerald J. Gorn, Faculty of Management, McGill University
Marvin E. Goldberg, Faculty of Management, McGill University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 01 | 1974

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