Advertisers vs. parents: a holiday showdown

Media Contact: Jeff Cronin, 215-204-3324,

‘Tis the season for toy commercials.

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, our time spent with media is filled with advertisements touting the wonders of the latest toys like the new Furby or the countless products tied into The Hobbit.

There are reasons behind why so many kids will have the Furby on their holiday wish lists this year. (photo courtesy Hasbro)

Americans have come to expect the phenomenon this time of year, but it’s evolving in ways parents may not be aware, says Assistant Professor Sherri Hope Culver, director of the Center for Media and Information Literacy at Temple University’s School of Media and Communication.

Many advertisers speak directly to the children, not their parents, as a way to sell their products with the assistance of what experts call the “nag factor.”

“Kids are attracted by a product’s salient features,” she says. “Toys that have sound effects, flashing lights, bold colors or react to a child’s touch.”

Culver believes that, through lobbying efforts of various organizations, advertisers have been forced over the years to make their messaging more appropriate for the age of a product’s target audience. She points to guidelines from the Children’s Advertising Review Unit that recommend ways advertisers can work more ethically.

“The commercials should be communicated in a way that the child understands,” Culver says.

While the messages are more easily understood, she says children are hearing more commercials than ever, because “with each succeeding year, kids are interacting more with media.” Studies show they’re still watching hours upon hours of television and have added interaction with the Internet and apps.

What is a parent to do?
Culver recommends setting guidelines before the influx of holiday commercials begins, because “when you’re in the moment of the holidays and you have not had conversations with your child beforehand, then it’s a challenge.”

She suggests that a parent can have children create a wish list of 10 items and, if they are swayed by a flashy commercial, have them replace one of those items with their latest desire.

Culver also says limiting the number of commercials they see will help since children are influenced by repetitive messaging. Recording their programs and skipping through the ads is one technique she advises.

“What that can cut back on is this dying need to have this one particular thing,” she says.

But the most important thing is for parents to be aware that their child is seeing and reacting to these messages and the onus is on them, not the advertisers, to control it.

“If it’s going to make a company money, the advertiser is going to do it,” Culver says.