Children's Ability to Identify Retail Stores From Advertising Slogans

ABSTRACT - Previous slogan recall studies have drawn upon adult and Adolescent samples. Children's television advertising research has relied primarily on open-ended, general recall measures in the past. This paper examines slogan recall among elementary school children within the context of memory development. Results indicate that slogan recall is positively related to age and to media exposure.


Bonnie B. Reece (1984) ,"Children's Ability to Identify Retail Stores From Advertising Slogans", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, eds. Thomas C. Kinnear, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 320-323.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, 1984      Pages 320-323


Bonnie B. Reece, Michigan State University


Previous slogan recall studies have drawn upon adult and Adolescent samples. Children's television advertising research has relied primarily on open-ended, general recall measures in the past. This paper examines slogan recall among elementary school children within the context of memory development. Results indicate that slogan recall is positively related to age and to media exposure.


Slogans have long been used as an element in advertising campaigns. Their purpose is to facilitate the storage in memory by consumers of a brand name and some piece of information that identifies and positions that brand. Creating awareness is a necessary first step in both the learning hierarchy and the low-involvement hierarchy of affects (Ray 1982, Chapter 7). Thus, for many consumer-goods manufacturers and for the retailers who sell those goods, awareness is a major advertising objective.

Research on slogan awareness has been somewhat limited. Some research has tried to determine whether slogan styles or size of advertising budget affect recall (Katz and Rose 1969). These factors do not seem to have a direct correlation. Most research, however, has focused on demographic variables that predict which respondents are best at identifying brands or companies by their slogans. These studies have produced mixed results.

Larson and Wales (1970) found that, among adult respondents, the variables that best predicted differences in slogan awareness were age, race, income, and sex. In this study, being young, white, high income, and male led a respondent to identify more slogans than the average. The authors were a bit surprised to learn that males were better than females at this task given that, at that time, women were the primary purchasing agents in most families. This finding may have been an artifact of the study design, because a high proportion of the slogans were for traditionally male products (automobiles/gasoline/tires, beer, and airlines).

Similar findings were reported by Keiser (1975). He surveyed students in junior and senior high school and used slogans that identified a variety of products and services. He found a negative relationship between slogan awareness and age but a positive relationship between recall and both social class and television exposure.

Over the last ten to fifteen years, a number of other studies have looked at slogan recall among young people, but those studies have considered this skill as an aspect of consumer socialization. Katz and Rose (1969) focused on slogans for soft drinks and cigarettes and found that recall increased with age and with product usage but was not affected by the sex of the respondent. Their subjects came from classrooms with average ages of 11, 16, and 21. The theoretical basis for that study was learning theory.

In a study of eighth through twelfth graders conducted by Ward and Wackman (1971), younger and older adolescents showed no differences in ability to recall slogans. The authors suggested that recall of television advertising is an example of the simplest kind of consumer learning and may be developmentally complete by the time a child reaches eighth grade. In looking at other explanatory variables, they found that recall was best predicted by intelligence, with media exposure of secondary importance. The lack of importance of media exposure as a predictor was justified on the basis of the level of repetition for commercials; even minimal exposure to television insures exposure to most commercials.

Moore and Stephens (1975) confirmed the importance of intelligence as a predictor of slogan recall for middle school students (sixth through eighth grade) but found no statistically significant predictors for recall among high school students. Although the difference in mean number of slogans recalled was not significantly different for the two groups of students, path analysis indicated that age was an important predictor of recall in the model when all of the students were considered together.

Although a number of studies have looked at commercial recall among younger children (for example, Blatt, Spencer, and Ward 1972; Ward and Wackman 1973; Rubin 1974), these studies have defined recall in terms of number of elements, nature of elements, and order of elements recalled. A more recent study tested both recall and recognition for brand name and product attributes (Wartella, Wackman, and Ward 1978). None has tested slogan recall per se. The purpose of this paper is to explore slogan recall among children in elementary schools.


Because of the conflicting nature of the findings from studies of slogan recall among adolescents and adults, no hypotheses were developed prior to the collection of data in the present study. Rather a number of theories were considered that might explain these earlier findings. These theories are reviewed briefly below.

Cognitive development theory suggests that children pass through qualitatively different stages of thinking and organizing knowledge from birth until adolescence. This theory has been the basis of much work in consumer socialization of children. Children at different stages of cognitive development exhibit different perceptions of and reactions to television advertising (Blatt, Spencer, and Ward 1979; Ward and 'Hackman 1973; Rubin 1974) and different degrees of consumer socialization in general (see, 'or example, Ward, Wackman, and Wartella 1975). Unfortunately, this stage theory of cognitive development is not very useful when dealing with slogan recall. According to Piaget, recall begins to develop at about is months. Stage of development has little bearing on recall of a specific name because that kind of recall is only figurative with no intellectual operations involved (Ginsburg and Opper 1379). Indeed, Blatt, Spencer, and Ward (1972) noted that even the kindergarten children in their study could parrot back repetitious material such as jingles.

Much of the recent work in memory development has focused on strategies of acquisition, retrieval, and OrganiZation. In the kinds of tasks used in these studies, investigators almost invariably find developmental differences in performance of children from preschool through early adolescence. Older children are better than younger ones at selective attention, verbal rehearsal, categorization, use of retrieval cues, and memory search (Hagen and Stanovich 1977; Moely 1977; Kobasigawa 1977). These tasks generally involved intentional learning (recall or recognition) on the part of the subjects.

When incidental learning was the focus of or a component of the investigation, results are not so clear-cut. On the one hand, Hagen and Stanovich (1977) found no age-related differences in incidental learning when the children were intentionally learning other material. On the other hand, Soviet investigators have found developmental changes in involuntary memorization when that learning resulted from goal-oriented actions (Meacham 1977). Likewise, Brown (1975) suggests that there should be developmental changes in nonstrategic memory to the extent that the task is a semantic rather than episodic one. If the material to be learned is meaningful (fits the head), memory for the gist, or even the exact input, sill occur involuntarily .

What are the implications of this work on memory for a study of slogan recall? Age-related differences would be expected if the recall was the result of intentional categorization, that is, if there had been instructions to learn. Slogan recall studies have not given respondents prior notice of the fact that they would be tested on this material. Thus, in order to assume intentional learning, one would have to attribute such learning to instructions from the sponsor of the advertising message to "pay attention.

If, on the other 'land, slogan recall is the result of involuntary or incidental Learning, results would depend on the assumptions made about the nature of the task. No age-related differences would be expected if the advertising were considered to be the irrelevant material embedded in the relevant material children were trying to remember. The sane would be true if recall for advertising were only considered tv be a part of episodic memory. But, if attending to advertising is a goal-oriented activity or if the products being advertised are meaningful ones for older children but not for younger ones, then developmental differences would be expected.


Data for this study were collected in two communities in south-eastern Michigan. About two-thirds of the respondents lived in a Large university city, while the remaining third lived in a nearby rural, blue-collar town. Both communities were exposed to the same newspapers as well as the same television and radio stations. Respondents were selected at random from class lists in schools which were representative of the two districts' populations. Approximately equal numbers of the 129 respondents sere selected from kindergarten, third grade, and sixth grade. Personal interviews were conducted during school hours in unused classrooms or offices.


Because these data were collected as part of a larger study of children's knowledge about shopping and stores, the slogans children sere asked to identity were only those used in advertising campaigns for retailers with outlets in the area of the study. All of the eight slogans had appeared on television for at least two months prior to data collection, and each had also been used in newspaper and/or radio advertising. Although the slogans were only from advertising for retailers, these retailers represented a variety of store types. Interviewers read the slogans to the children and asked them which store used each slogan in its advertising. Interviewers recorded the names of the stores given by children so that problems of misidentification could be studied as well as a total score calculated.

Independent Variables

Two demographic variables were used as independent variables: age and sex. Age was calculated as the number of months from the child's birth date until the month in which the interview took place. This method was used in order to account for differences in abilities which elementary teachers sometimes report between children with "early" and "late" birthdays. Standardized intelLigence test scores were not available for the children in the study communities, therefore intelligence couLd not be used as an independent measure.

Media exposure was measured by asking the children how often they watched television, listened to radio, or read a newspaper. A five-point rating scale was used for these questions, with responses being coded from almost never (1) to every day (5).


Overall, recall of slogans for retail stores among children in this study was not high. Out of eight slogans which respondents were asked to identify, the average number of correct responses was only two; and no chiLd identified more than six slogans correctly. This low rate of recall may relate to a similar phenomenon uncovered by Ward, Reale, and Levinson (1972). These researchers found that children in the same age range as those in this study rarely cited local advertising when asked to describe commercials that they either liked or disliked. The authors suggested two possible explanations: ( I ) the commercial treatment (mainly static slides) failed to stimulate affective response from the children, and (2) there was a general lack of interest In these "products" on the part of the children. An alternative explanation for the low rate of recall may be that children in this age range are still learning even simple consumer skills, and the rate of recall would be equally low if the slogans had been parts of expensively-produced commercials for children's products.

There was a wide variation in the recognizability of individual slogans. As Table 1 indicates, the slogan with the highest percentage of respondents identifying it correctly -was that used by K-Mart (48.1%), and the slogan with the lowest percentage of correct responses was for Sears (10.1%). Thus, even for K-mart's slogan, more than half of the children in this sample either did not know the sponsor or attributed it to someone else.

From the perspective of the retailer whose advertising budget is paying for the media time and space, a respondent's attributing an ad to the wrong sponsor should be of more concern than a respondent's not knowing who the sponsor is. In the latter case no store gains from the advertising; in the former case the sponsoring store is losing ground relative to the stores which are benefiting falsely from its advertising.

According to the results of this study, incorrect identification was more of a problem for some retailers than for others. Only 10.8% of the children attributed Ace's slogan to another store, but 41.I% of them attributed Sears' slogan to other retailers. Generally, children's errors were distributed among a number of other stores, including some that are not direct competitors of the actual slogan owner. However, in several instances the errors were concentrated on a particular incorrect response. For example, more children said that "Where America shops for value" was used by K-mart than said it was used by Sears.



New York Carpet World's problem was not quite as severe as this one, hut nearly as many respondents identified its slogan as belonging to a rival carpet store as said it belonged to the correct sponsor. The most frequently mentioned incorrect response for the Chatham slogan was not another store; some 16% of the children completed this slogan ("Welcome to the wonderful world of ...") with the name "Disney."

Predicting Recall

There were no quotas for sex in data collection. Random sampling resulted in a male-female ratio of about 52 to 48. There were slightly more boys than girls in the two younger age groups and slightly more girls than boys in the sixth grade sample. These differences were not statistically significant. There were, likewise, no significant differences between boys and girls in the number of slogans recalled (x2 = 4.71, p = .58).

There were, however, considerable differences in slogan recall by ave. Regression analysis results listed in Table 2 indicate that age explained about 43% of the variance in number of slogans recalled. Inspection of the data related to recall of individual slogans revealed that children in the three grades had different patterns of response when they did not know the correct answer. For six of the eight slogans, third grade children had a higher rate of misidentification than either kindergartners or sixth graders. The rate of misattribution was lower for kindergartners because they were more likely to say that they did not know the answer, whereas for sixth graders the rate was lower because they got the answer right.

Simple regression analysis was also used to determine the relationship between media exposure and recall. As can be seen in Table 2, all of the coefficients were statistically significant, but the proportion of variance explained dropped considerably from that in the run with age as the independent variable. Television exposure was the least useful explanatory variable, primarily because there was so little variance in this variable. Some 70% of the children said that they watched television every day, and only two children said that they watched less than once a week. There was more variation in children's exposure to radio and newspaper, and this variation seems to be related to higher rates of recall.




The purpose of this paper was to explore slogan recall among children of elementary school age. The findings will be discussed with an eye toward implications for future research and for advertisers.

Overall, children in this age group recalled proportionately fewer slogans than adolescents in the studies cited earlier in this paper. This lower performance may be the result of differences in the kinds of slogans children were asked to identify. If these children had been given slogans for nationally-advertised consumer products, they might have scored better than they did; or, if the adolescents in the other studies had been given retail advertising slogans to identify, their scores might have been loser than they were. It is importance in making comparisons between studies to have test items with the same degree of difficulty, and an assessment of that comparability has not been made. This would be one direction for future research.

A second possible explanation for the difference in performance between the children in this study and those in earlier studies lies in the way the data were collected. Previous research relied on self-administered questionnaires, usually completed in classroom groups. It was not possible to follow that procedure for this study because the youngest children could not read. Instead, slogans were presented orally to the participants. The use of the oral presentation method would prevent respondents from going back to fill in answers they remember later in the interview .

Despite these two potential limitations, there remains the fact that there were strong age-related differences among children within this study. Sixth grade children were better at this task than third-grade children who were, in turn, better than kindergartners. This would suggest that the lower overall performance was not due solely to the nature of the test items or to the testing procedure. At least some of the difference must be attributable to the fact that the children in this study were younger than those in earlier studies, and young children are not as good at slogan recall as older children. There seems, in fact, to be a developmental trend from not being able to recall slogans at all to being able to recall but not very accurately to being able to recall fairly accurately.

These findings can be looked at within the framework of memory research. On the surface, slogan recall appears to be an example of incidental learning that involves episodic memory. Episodic memory includes memory for discrete perceptual information, entered directly into the system with retrieval judged on the basis of accuracy of reproduction (Brown 1975). The developmental differences noted in this paper imply a connection, at least to some extent, with semantic memory wherein involuntary learning seems to depend on the relevance of the material encountered to the learner.

For advertisers, at least for retail advertisers like the ones whose slogans were used in this study, the findings see m to be of e he good news-bad news type. The bad news is that children of elementary school age are not very good at identifying stores from their advertising slogans The problem may be one of lack of exposure, but that seem unlikely given the rates at which children watch television. It is more likely that the advertising does not have enough impact on the children to cause the kind of processing that puts the slogan and correct name into long-term storage. It is interesting to note that the four stores with the highest rates of slogan recall used music in their television commercials. The good news from this study is that children get better at correctly identifying stores as they get older. By the time they are old enough to be customers, they seem to pay attention and remember what advertisers tell then.


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Bonnie B. Reece, Michigan State University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11 | 1984

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