Children's Attitudes Toward Advertising on Television and Radio and in Children's Magazines and Comic Books

ABSTRACT - This is a preliminary report of exploratory research on the attitudes of elementary school children toward advertising on television and radio and in certain types of children's magazines and comic books. The results indicated that advertising in "quality" children's magazines was scored most positively while TV commercials were viewed most negatively by all grade levels tested. Analysis was carried out using appropriate ANOVA methods and t-tests.


Jay D. Lindquist (1979) ,"Children's Attitudes Toward Advertising on Television and Radio and in Children's Magazines and Comic Books", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06, eds. William L. Wilkie, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 407-412.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 1979      Pages 407-412


Jay D. Lindquist, Western Michigan University

[This research was supported by a fellowship and grant from the Faculty Research Fund, Western Michigan University.]


This is a preliminary report of exploratory research on the attitudes of elementary school children toward advertising on television and radio and in certain types of children's magazines and comic books. The results indicated that advertising in "quality" children's magazines was scored most positively while TV commercials were viewed most negatively by all grade levels tested. Analysis was carried out using appropriate ANOVA methods and t-tests.


Published research on children's attitudes toward various media goes back to the 1930's when efforts were carried out to determine the effects of motion pictures on children. Next, attention was devoted to the criminal theme content of television programs in the mid-1950s and its impact on youngsters. Also since the 1950's there have been periodic investigations of television advertising and its effects on young people.

In 1950 the public at large was rather apathetic concerning the television-child relationship. Brumbaugh (1954) characterized the state of affairs as one where parents were not aware of the impact made upon a child's memory by advertising information concerning products in which a child had no immediate interest. Then (Thompson, 1964) it was found that television seemed to have little effect on the relationships of knowledge, understanding and acceptance of television commercials and actual use of the products advertised. It was then discovered (McNeal, 1964) that there was increasing dislike and mistrust of television advertisements as children grew older. In fact, one-half of the five and seven year olds tested and three-quarters of the nine year olds reported negative feelings toward television commercials. In 1970 James conducted a survey of children in grades four through twelve. He found that mean attitude scores were lower for television than any other medium and those scores lowered as a child's grade in school increased. He also concluded that as grade level in school increased the amount of time spent watching television decreased. This led to the inference that there was no positive relationship between attitudes toward television advertising and the amount of exposure to the medium. Then it was found (Ward, Reale and Levinson, 1971) that older children show a greater understanding as to what a commercial is and also can more easily discriminate between program material and commercials than younger children. Also research (Ward, Wackman and Levinson, 1971) showed a negative attitude development pattern toward TV commercials as children aged. Other work of interest has been done by Blatt, Spencer and Ward (1972); Robertson and Rossiter (1974); Ward, Wackman, Faber and Lesser (1974); Atkin (1975); Bever, Smith, Bengen, and Johnson (1975); Ferguson (1975) and Rossiter (1977).


The objectives of the research are:

1. Measure the attitudes of third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders toward advertising on television and radio and in comic books and certain children's magazines.

2. Determine if differences exist within each grade across media.

3. Determine if differences exist within each medium across grade.


Measuring Instrument

The seven-item, four-point scale instrument proposed and used by Rossiter (1977) was used to gather data on attitudes toward television commercials. This basic instrument, with minor modifications, was then used for the data acquisition on each of the other media. This questionnaire was selected because of its apparent success at the hands of Rossiter and to revalidate its reliability in measuring young people's attitudes toward television commercials and establish reliability in measuring attitudes toward the other three media in the study. The reliability data has not been processed and analyzed at this time and will be reported at a later date.

The seven items on the questionnaire (as labeled by Rossiter) are as follows:


The reader should note that items 1, 4, 6 and 7 are positively oriented whereas items 2, 3 and 5 are negatively oriented when respondents show degree of agreement. Recall that a four-point agreement scale was used. The four-positions were "agree very much, agree, disagree and disagree very much."

Attitude Scoring

Each item was scored on a four-point scale with the numbers running from "1" to "4" in the direction from "agree very much" to "disagree very much". To compute an overall attitude score, called TOTATT by Rossiter, a simple sum of the individual item scores was carried out. The only adjustment was in a reversal of scores for items 2, 3 and 5. The range of scores possible was 7 to 28, with the lower overall score being an indication of a "strong" positive attitude toward a particular medium and the higher score showing a "strong" negative attitude toward advertising in a particular medium.

Sampling Method

The sample was drawn from the Portage, Michigan portion of the Kalamazoo-Portage SMSA. The eleven elementary schools in the Portage School District were sorted into four groups based upon the predominant socio-economic classes within them. One school was then drawn at random from each group. Then one third, fourth, fifth and sixth grade class was selected at random from each of the four schools. This produced four grade cells with four schoolroom classes in each. The data used as the basis for this paper were collected from all four schools in the case of the television, radio and magazine media. However only two schools were used to gather comic book information.

The sample cells were:


Data Gathering Procedure

Data was gathered from the young respondents during their normal school day. Each class in each school filled out the instruments within their "home" room. The fourth, fifth and sixth graders participated on a self-administered basis with minor introductory remarks prior to each medium evaluation. The instruments were read on an item by item basis to the third graders.

Prior to beginning each of the questionnaires, the young people were asked to indicated whether they were a boy or a girl" on the form. Before beginning the instrument concerning children's magazines, examples of the type to be considered were shown. These included Daisy, American Girl, Boys Life, National Geographic World and Ranger Ricks. Also the children were asked to indicate whether or not they had looked through or read any of them or any magazines like them. Covers of these magazines were mounted on a poster board and shown to the youngsters. Similarly a series of adventure and humorous comic book covers were mounted and shown to the school children prior to their completion of the comic book questionnaire. All respondents filled out the instruments on each medium in one session.


Item Analysis

Tables 1 through 4 are summaries of the item distributions for each of the four media. Within each table is a breakdown on the basis of grade in school. To facilitate a rough analysis by the reader, these tables have been collapsed into one "agreement-disagreement" table. The latter table is Table 5.









Examination of Table 5 reveals some interesting information. First note that advertising in children's magazines is seen as most truthful, followed in order by radio commercials, television commercials and advertising in comic books, if the differences among the percentages are significant. With the same disclaimer one may hypothesize that the table shows that advertisements in children's magazines are liked more often than those in comic books or on radio and television in descending order. Note also that these young people appear to feel that advertising in children's magazines does not encourage them to buy things that they don't really need to the degree that comic books, radio and television advertising do. Also of interest is the progressive feeling that products advertised in/on television, radio, comic books and children's magazines are the best products to buy. There is no intent on the part of the author to imply that the percentages shown are different in a statistically significant sense--a later analysis will treat this question. However, the data hints that such differences may exist.



The agreement data presented in Table 6 is offered to point out certain possible trends that appear to be surfacing if one holds medium constant and looks across grade. In most cases it may be hypothesized that for each of the four media, children's attitudes toward advertising within them become progressively more negative as grade in school (age) increases--not an unexpected finding. Additional analysis to more clearly determine the validity of such observations was carried out and will be presented later on in the paper.



Total Attitude Score (TOTATT) Analysis

In order to determine the positions of the various media in an overall positive to negative attitude sense, a look at average TOTATT by medium and by grade-in-school was taken. The data summarized in Table 7 was the basis for the next series of data presentations and analyses. Note that only the data collected from those students who scored all four media will be discussed from this point forward.



A plot of the mean TOTATT scores for each medium across grades is presented is Chart 1. This preliminary look at the data in descriptive form points toward nonlinear interaction within media as we proceed across grades.

It could also be hypothesized from the chart that across grades the most favorable attitude is toward advertising in children's magazines (lowest mean TOTATT scores) and the least favorable is toward advertising on television.



Also, hypothetically, we see the third and fourth graders favoring print media over sight and sound. One could also theorize that there is a shift in media position from fourth to fifth grade where advertising in comic books becomes more negatively viewed than radio commercials. Finally the chart allows us to speculate that the greatest shift in attitude is that associated with advertisements in comic books. Total attitude scores begin near the most positive of the four media and then by the time youngsters reach the sixth grade the comic books score is very near that of television, a much more negative position. In this case the comic book TOTATT mean score shifts 5.085 units as compared to shifts of 4.525, 2.575 and 2.441 units, respectively, for children's magazines, television and radio.

To further pursue this question a two-way repeated measure analysis of variance computer program was run on the data. Significant interactions between grade and medium were found at the 0.001 level. Table 8 displays the results of this run. Naturally the grade and medium treatment effects are also significant, in this case at the 0.001 level. Since interaction did exist, steps to clear up the within grade and within medium results had to be taken. One-way ANOVA was chosen to shed additional light on the subject. To begin with, a one-way repeated measure ANOVA was run holding grade constant and changing media. The rationale for using this procedure was that the data had been gathered from the same respondents across all four media, hence repeated measures existed. All possible pairs of groups within each of the four ANOVA runs were then tested to see if statistically significant differences existed. The methodology used in the latter case was the correlated t-test. A summary of the F-ratios for each grade in school is presented in Table 9.







Then an overview of the media-pair significance levels is offered in Table 10. The data points toward third graders having similar attitudes toward advertising on the radio and that found in children's magazines and comic books. However, a closer tie between the two print media was shown by the t-tests. Further these young people have a significantly different attitude toward advertisements in these three media than toward television commercials. As children move into the fourth grade, we note from Table 10 that the radio-comic book similarity still persists. Differences between television and radio commercials still exist as do those between advertising in comic books and children's magazines. (The reader may wish to cross-check Table 10 with Chart 1 throughout this discussion.) As the student enters the fifth grade one notes that the link between radio commercials and comic book advertising is strengthening. The gap also appears to be closing between advertising in comic books and television commercials. As the sixth graders are looked at, television commercials are perceived with an attitude similar to that expressed toward comic books. Also the relationship between radio and children's magazines appears to be quite strong. Overall, stability is noted in attitude positioning of television commercial scores versus the scores for children's magazine advertising.

At this point an examination across grades as medium was held constant was in order. Table 11 presents the results of a standard ANOVA for this circumstance. This procedure was appropriate since each data bit within each medium was gathered from a different respondent. The F-ratios were significant statistically in each of the media cases. The t-test summary for all possible grade pairs, holding medium constant is presented as Table 12.





From this table one sees that fourth, fifth and sixth graders have similar attitudes toward television commercials. Only children in third and fourth grade appear to have closely related attitudes toward advertising in children's magazines. Radio commercials are viewed similarly by third and fourth graders whereas the fifth and sixth grade youngsters cluster independently with the fourth graders on the same medium. Table 13 gives a clearer picture of all of these grade and media relationships. Also note that third and fourth graders show similar attitudes concerning advertising in comic books. The fifth and sixth graders also show this similarity in attitude though in a much more negative sense than that displayed with respect to the radio commercial. Refer to Chart 1 again to substantiate the latter in a graphical sense.




First let us consider the limitations of the study. The instrument used was tested for its reliability by Rossiter (1977) in the gathering of data from fourth through sixth graders with middle class backgrounds from a large eastern city. The instrument was sufficiently reliable when used to measure attitudes toward television commercials. The author used the questionnaire with appropriate modifications on three additional media and one lower grade level and collected the data in a smaller midwestern city. Although reliability analysis is presently underway, it is not completed at this time hence questions pertaining to this factor are still present. Generalizability is also questionable since the sample was drawn from a midwestern city using a stratified random sampling method. In light of these qualifications, the study is considered exploratory and the following conclusions are seen as theoretical explanations for the results found.

Of the four media, children have the most negative attitude toward advertising in the television medium. This could be caused by such things as high exposure levels that lead to feelings of intrusion, prominent societal negative attitudes and parental negative reinforcement.

The most positive attitude across grade levels was that toward advertising in better quality children's magazines. These feelings could be caused by such things as the magazine being associated with reputable organizations (i.e. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, National Geographic, etc.) or because subscriptions are often purchased by parents or grandparents, giving tacit adult approval. Certainly quality of the advertising could also impact on the attitudes formed. Finally, these young people could also be feeling that there is sanctity in the printed word.

It is interesting to note the smaller change in attitude scores that radio commercials achieve across grades. Radio appears to be a more credible advertising medium for the fifth and sixth graders, particularly for the latter group where the mean TOTATT scores are very close to those for ads in quality children's magazines. This might be caused by the increased reliance of these groups on the medium as they enter the music-dominated preteen years.

Another interesting phenomenon is the wide comic book advertising attitude score change across grades. These combinations of picture-dominant, picture-word presentations start out near children's magazines in positive attitude placement. This might be because the third and fourth graders are in the early stages of their reading lives. Another factor might be the feeling of value for printed materials in general. The fifth and sixth graders, however, greatly increase their attitude scores (more negative) concerning advertising in this medium. Why? Possibly, they now have the ability to truly discriminate between magazines and comic books. Further, the latter are viewed more negatively by their peers and parents. Also, the type and quality of the advertisements themselves may have a bearing on the shifting scores.

It is interesting to note just how well even the third graders appear to discriminate among the media and also how, with experience, these elementary school children rearrange these media as they become more experienced. Finally, one sees that in all cases advertising media advertising TOTATT scores become more negative as these young people progress through school. This is not unlike many previous findings.

The data shows the potential power of quality children's magazines as an advertising medium across the grades studied. Also shown is the potential, already realized by many, that radio as an advertising medium appears to possess for reaching the preteener.

As is typical of exploratory work, more questions are raised than answered. The conclusions that have been presented are in the form of a series of speculations that point toward further research. Many doors that could be opened have been offered to the reader for his or her consideration.


C. K. Atkin, The Effects of Television Advertising on Children: A Survey of Children's and Mother's Responses to Television Commercials (Department of Communications, Michigan State University, 1975)

T. G. Bever, M. L. Smith, B. Bengen and T. G. Johnson, "Young Viewers' Troubling Response to TV Ads," Harvard Business Review, 53(November-December, 1975), 109-120.

J. Blatt, L. Spencer and S. Ward, "A Cognitive Development Study of Children's Reactions to Television Advertising,'' in Television and Social Behavior, Vol. 4, Television in Day-to-Day Life: Patterns of Use, edited by E. A. Rubenstein, G. A. Comstock and J.P. Murray (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of HEW, 1971).

F. N. Brumbaugh, "What effect Does TV Advertising Have on Children?," Educational Digest, 19 (1954).

C. P. Ferguson, Preadolescent Children's Attitudes Toward Television Commercials (Austin, TX: Bureau of Business Research, University of Texas at Austin, 1975).

D. L. James, Youth, Media and Advertising (Austin, TX: Bureau of Business Research, University of Texas at Austin, 1971).

J. U. McNeal, Children as Consumers (Austin, TX: Bureau of Business Research, University of Texas at Austin, 1964).

T. S. Robertson and J. R. Rossiter, "Children and Commercial Persuasion: An Attribution Theory Analysis," Journal of Consumer Research, 1(June, 1974), 13-20.

J. R. Rossiter, "Reliability of a Short Test Measuring Children's Attitudes Toward TV Commercials," Journal of Consumer Research, 3(March, 1977), 179-184.

G. W. Thompson, "Children's Acceptance of Television Advertising and the Relation of Televiewing to School Achievement," Journal of Educational Research, 58 (December, 1964).

S. Ward, G. Reale and D. Levinson, "Children's Perceptions, Explanations and Judgments of Television Advertising: A Further Exploration," in Television and Social Behavior, Vol. 4, Television in Day-to-Day Life: Pattern of Use, edited by E. A. Rubenstein, G. A. Comstock and J.P. Murray (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of HEW, 1971).

S. Ward, D. Levinson and D. Wackman, "Children's Attention to Television Advertising," in Television and Social Behavior, Vol. 4, Television in Day-to-Day Life: Pattern of Use, edited by E. A. Rubenstein, G. A. Comstock and J.P. Murray (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of HEW, 1971).

S. Ward, D. B. Wackman and G. S. Lesser, Effects of Television Advertising on Consumer Socialization (Cambridge, MA: Marketing Science Institute, 1974).



Jay D. Lindquist, Western Michigan University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06 | 1979

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