Literature Review on Television Ads Essay

Literature Review On Television Ads 1. Television and Children 2. Television Commercials and Children 3. Television Commercials and Gender Roles a. Content Analyses – Adults & Children b. Impact 4. Television Commercials, Masculinity and Boys a. Content Analyses b. Impact ________________________________________ 1. Television and Children In this section I will be reviewing the literature on children and television. It has been demonstrated that the average American viewer is exposed to 31 hours of television a week, of which three to nine hours is devoted to commercials (Furnham, & Bitar, 1993).

In the case of children, the average preschooler watches 28 hours per week, while the average school-aged child, watches 24 hours per week (Lazar, 1994). Based on the percentages reported by Furnham & Bitar (1993), these children are exposed to as much as eight hours of commercials per week. It is likely that these numbers are similar to those we would find in Canada (Kline, 1993). Due to the level of exposure children have to television, it is important to determine what kind of socializing effect television may have on them.

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There has been a great deal of research designed to demonstrate that television has an impact on children’s beliefs, and behaviours (Kline, 1993; Butter, Weikel, Otto, Wright, & Deinzer, 1991; Huston & Alvarez, 1990; Meltzoff, 1988; Downs, & Harrison, 1985). Two of these studies will be briefly reviewed here. One particularly intriguing study looked at how fourteen and twenty-four month old infants were affected by a television “advertisement”. Meltzoff (1988), divided his subjects into three groups, two of which were presented with a televised demonstration of how to play with a new toy.

The demonstration presented to each group was different, with the first group receiving a correct demonstration of how to play with the toy, the second group receiving an incorrect demonstration of how to play with the toy, and the third group receiving no demonstration at all. Following the various levels of demonstrations, the infants were presented with the toy shown on the television. The children who had been given a televised demonstration of how to play with the toy, played correctly with the toy significantly more often than did those who had been given an incorrect demonstration, or no demonstration at all.

This knowledge was also apparently retained over a one year period (Meltzoff, 1988). Meltzoff argues that his study demonstrates that children as young as fourteen months imitate what they see on television, and retain this information for up to a year. A second study introduced school-aged children to advertisements pertaining to over the counter drugs. It was discovered that these commercials had a modest influence on the children’s willingness to suggest medicinal solutions to illnesses over equally viable non-medicinal solutions.

This was particularly noticeable for drugs that were previously unfamiliar to the children (Butter, Weikel, Otto, Wright & Deinzer, 1991). These and other studies suggest that television acts as an important influence on children’s perceptions and behaviour. ________________________________________ 2. Television Commercials and Children Within the literature on children and television, specific work on television commercials has been done. In a study focusing on children’s perceptions of alcohol consumption, Wallack and Grube found evidence to prove that television advertising influenced children’s perceptions (1994).

Their subjects who were exposed to television commercials advertising alcoholic beverages, developed an overwhelmingly positive perception of alcohol consumption. Due to the age of the subjects however (pre-teens), no evidence could be found to indicate that commercials influenced children’s actual drinking behaviour. The province of Quebec provides researchers with an interesting case study, as legislation has banned all commercials aimed at children. This legislation cannot however, regulate against American channels that are available to Quebec residents living in the vicinity of the American / Canadian border.

This situation creates interesting opportunities for research into the impact of television commercials on children. Using this situation, Goldberg hypothesized that the English speaking children living in Quebec would be influenced by the English speaking American commercials, but that French speaking children would not (1990). To assess this, he looked at children’s awareness of various toys and sugared cereal products that were featured in children’s advertising on the American stations.

He discovered that English speaking children did in fact demonstrate greater recognition of the toys, and cereals featured in the American advertising (Goldman, 1990). Based on these findings, we can assume that television commercials are attended to by children, and that they gain knowledge from them. Whether the knowledge gained is positive is another matter. ________________________________________ 3. Television Commercials and Gender Roles: a) Content Analyses – Adults & Children:

While many researchers have focused upon attempting to demonstrate the influence that television has on children, other researchers have looked more specifically at the issue of television and gender. Bretl and Cantor (1985) focused their study on adult characters in American commercials. They found that, despite improvements since the seventies in the status of female characters, the commercials of the early eighties still revealed stereotypical gender roles. Male characters for example, were still more likely to be portrayed as employed outside the home while women were typically found working in the home.

Males were also given greater credibility than were females. Male and female adult characters were also still clearly associated with activities traditionally associated with their gender (i. e. men were associated with mowing the lawn, while women were associated with doing the dishes). Finally, they discovered that ninety percent of commercials had male narrators, and that this was true even in the case of commercials for stereotypically female products. Another extensive study was conducted by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, between 1984 and 1988.

This study explored the portrayal of gender in Canadian broadcasting, and included a subsection exploring the portrayal of gender in television advertising. Some of their major findings included the fact that narrators were overwhelmingly male, and that male characters portrayed in the commercials were twice as likely to be employed outside the home than female characters. Female characters were also more likely to be involved in family situations, especially in child-care (CRTC, 1990). Turning to look specifically at television ommercials aimed at children, careful and extensive study has determined that commercials aimed at children are sexist in their depiction of female characters (Signorielli, 1993). Focusing on the Saturday morning slot devoted to children’s programming, Riffe, Goldon, Saxton, and Yu (1989), found that the commercials programmed for this time were populated predominantly with male characters. Although the female presence may have increased slightly over the past fifteen years, Riffe et al. established that the world of children’s television commercials remained predominantly male (1989).

Children’s commercials are also pitched at gendered audiences. Welch, Huston-Stein, Wright, and Plehal (1979), looked at commercials aimed at boys and girls and found that these had different characteristics. They found for example, that male focused commercials contained more rapid shifts in scenery, increased levels of aggression, more noise, and more male narrators than those pitched at females. Commercials aimed at girls were more likely to be slower paced, to have more fluid transitions, less noise, and more female narrators.

Of all the commercials coded by these researchers, only those aimed at females, and containing exclusively female characters, allowed girls to assume an authoritative role, otherwise the male characters were always in the position of authority. This study was particularly significant as it was one of the first to look at the portrayal of masculinity in television commercials. b) Impact: While numerous studies of content analysis reveal gender bias or inequity in the portrayal of characters, and the atmosphere of the commercials, others examine the issue of their impact upon the intended audience.

By definition, television commercials are intended to alter behaviour. When considering gender roles, does this remain true? I will begin by reviewing some of the work done on adults, and then look specifically at children. Focusing on gender role development, one study of women who were shown a commercial for beauty products, found that these women were more likely to believe that men attributed a high value to attractiveness, than did women who viewed neutral commercials (i. e. where women were not portrayed as dependent upon beauty products) (Tan, 1979).

In another study, by Geis, Brown, Walstedt, & Porter (1984), two groups of women were shown commercials portraying characters in traditional and non-traditional gender roles, respectively. They found that the women exposed to the commercials portraying characters in traditional gender roles, expressed a greater willingness to work in the home than did the women who had viewed the non-traditional commercials (Geis et al. , 1984). Each of these studies demonstrated that television commercials can influence the perceptions, and beliefs of their viewers.

In both cases, messages about gender roles encoded in television commercials, appear to have influenced the perceptions of gender roles in the audience. The hypothesis that children’s gender stereotypes and attitudes are influenced by television has been supported by both experimental and longitudinal studies (Huston & Alvarez, 1990). Van Evra states that a childOs understanding of what it means to be male or female is influenced by television (1990). A study conducted by Morgan in 1982, appears to support this claim.

In the study, Morgan observed boys and girls in grades six through ten over a one year period. During this time, Morgan looked at the television viewing habits of the subjects, and their beliefs about gender roles. Morgan discovered that over the one year period, the female subjects who reported higher levels of television viewing throughout the study, demonstrated an increase in their sexist beliefs. In comparison, female subjects who reported lower levels of television viewing, did not experience any similar increase in their sexist beliefs.

In the case of male subjects, those boys who held more sexist beliefs also tended to be the ones who viewed the most television, however no evidence was found of an increase in the sexist beliefs as a function of their television viewing during the study. A possible reason for the increase in sexism amongst the girls, but not the boys could be the fact that the boys on a whole held more sexist beliefs to begin with, and that the girls who viewed more television, began to approach this same level of sexist belief.

This would seem to indicate a relationship between television viewing and sexist beliefs in children (Morgan, 1982). Signorielli (1989) has proposed that as the amount of television watching increases, children’s conceptions of reality increasingly reflects the “realities” of television. Furthermore, television viewing contributes to the creation of common attitudes among respondents whose perspectives are otherwise dissimilar (Signorielli, 1989). In the area of gender roles, the result is that the beliefs of child viewers regarding gender roles, come to reflect the gender roles being portrayed on elevision. Signorielli conducted a content analysis of adult characters appearing in prime time television slots. She discovered that male and female characters were predominantly depicted in traditional and stereotypical ways (i. e. men were paid workers, while women were unpaid home-care specialists). In an attempt to demonstrate the effects predicted in her theory, Signorielli made comparisons between the level of television viewing in subjects, and their scores on a test of sexist beliefs.

She discovered that those children who were heavy viewers gave more sexist responses, than those who were light viewers (Signorielli, 1989). ________________________________________ 4. Television Commercials, Masculinity and Boys a) Content Analyses: No major content analysis has been conducted to look at how male characters are portrayed (outside of with reference to how female characters are portrayed) (Craig, 1992). It has, however, been suggested that the traditional view of masculinity (i. e. men as breadwinners) persists in advertising (Morra & Smith, 1995).

At the same time, research on the audience side of the equation has suggested that boys identify with the male characters on television (Reeves, & Miller, 1978). It has also been argued that boys are generally more influenced by television characters than are girls (Reeves, & Miller, 1978). This could, however, simply be a result of the predominance of male characters on television (CRTC, 1990a). Of particular interest is another research finding which indicated that boys on the whole hold more sexist beliefs than girls (Morgan, 1982).

In light of these various findings, the possible links between television commercials and the gender role development of males requires a great deal more scholarly attention. This thesis explores this issue through an examination of the portrayals of male characters in television commercials aimed at children, and specifically boys. It is important to look at the portrayals of males in such commercials in order to determine what images of masculinity are being presented to boy viewers. It has been suggested, for example, that little flexibility is given to males in the role models provided for them (Lindsey, 1994).

This study will ask whether there is any evidence of change toward a broader more flexible masculinity in the current crop of child-oriented commercials. If television commercials reflect society, then we may find some interesting and possibly contradictory patterns in portrayals of males in child oriented commercials (Lindsey, 1994). For example, as men’s roles in society are changing, one might predict that television commercials would reflect this by representing both the traditional male role model, and the new male that has emerged in our society.

This thesis will examine whether there is evidence of mixed messages about masculinity in the current selection of television commercials aimed at children and especially boys. b) Impact: While this thesis focuses upon representations of masculinity in television commercials aimed at children, the implications of these representations for the gender socialization of boys remains of primary interest. The study of the gender development of male children has gradually increased over the past few years, however there still remains many gaps in this research, including discussions of the role of the media (Fejes, 1989).

Morra and Smith (1995), have pointed toward the need for a better understanding of the possible influences that the violent, stereotyped males depicted on television have on young boys searching for a masculine identity. Although considerable study has been focussed on the issue of violence in television, it has not addressed the topic as an issue of gender, and other aspects of masculinity have been ignored. I am pursuing this subject in order to help fill the gap in the research.


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