Sunday, December 02, 2012

Student Perception and Credibility of Student’s Opinion

It is difficult to divorce student’s positive perception of an institution from desire to secure admission in it – assuming, there are no other major variables influencing the outcome of the decision. The perception tends to be formed, in my opinion, on social interaction and active feedback mechanism from alumni, peer groups, and institution’s enrolled students. These views are cross checked with reference groups, community leaders/elders including parents and other siblings, as well. I believe that the notion of students forming opinions about institutions based on heresy, rumours, and superfluous or supercilious parameters is not exactly true! 
The younger generation, on an average is ‘performance’ conscious and does like to evaluate institutions based on ‘effective educational practices,’ ‘environment & culture,’ ‘industry & job market’s assessment of an institution,’ ‘affordability,’ and faculty performance. I would go to the extent that often these perceptions are based on outcomes of informal, as well as formal research undertaken by the potential enroller of all ‘higher education.’ There may exist indications that ‘disciplinary culture,’ ‘opportunities to engage in personal growth, confidence building, and extra as well as co-curricular activities’ also tend to influence today’s average student in deciding to join an institution. I am not sure to what level parent’s/family’s ‘economic reality’ factor plays a crucial role in ‘college/university’ decision – especially, in today’s world where, even in traditional eastern societies, exists a trend of students beginning to ‘work’ to pay for or/and contribute towards the cost of education. 
Yes, indeed, admissions are also sought in several institutions because of certain snob value, however, to retain ‘snob value,’ these institutions have to retain their ‘core values’ (the ones discussed above) and extrinsic value (which stems from patronisation by ruling elite class). You may note that even these institutions vie to enroll accomplished and promising students (even if from lower economic strata to retain its reputation as premier academic institutions.
I remember reading a study (Umbach & Wawrzynski, 2005), which concludes that students tend to demonstrate higher level of engagement and learning at institutions where “faculty members use active and collaborative learning techniques, engage students in experiences, emphasize higher-order cognitive activities in the classroom, interact with students, challenge students academically, and value enriching educational experiences.” (p. 153)
Then there is an issue concering credibility of student's opinion or perception. How does one justify a study that is based on student opinion? Is it more to do with justifying or negating the exercise of student feedback to gauge the quality of an academic institution!
I will like to draw attention to a paper on student perceptions of faculty credibility based on email addresses (Livermore, Scafe, & Wiechowski, 2010). The idea is not to belittle your concern but to accentuate. The survey conducted indicated that “… a faculty member’s selection of an email address does influence the student’s perception of faculty credibility. An email address that consists of a nickname reduces the student’s perception of faculty credibility. The reduced creditability may have a negative impact on the faculty member as well as the college.” (p. 27)
It is apparent that student’s perception plays an important role in not just faculty’s credibility but the institutions credibility, as well. The lack of credibility, as some researchers point out, is linked to perceived learning (Russ, Simonds, & Hunt, 2002); (Glascock & Ruggiero, 2006). In today’s highly competitive and cut throat business, most colleges are struggling with increased competition, decreasing share of pie, and uncertain economic scenario – given the scenario, student satisfaction assumes a greater importance. A lack of perceived learning is likely to reduce a student’s satisfaction, leading to dwindling enrollment numbers. So, it will be right to assign greater importance to Student Perceptions despite the credibility issue.
Given the fact that there is an increased investment in education industry from the private sector, which adheres to ‘Profit Model’ for all of its socio-economic activities, client perceptions will always be important. It may be noted that most successful business enterprises decide to change with times, strategically re-invent themselves, re-brand or re-position themselves, to meet their customer’s expectations… Only, in this case student has become the customer.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Social Media and Construction of Alternate Truths

Every year, just as the Indian festival of Lights, Deepawali, gets over, a viral composite image of a satellite picture by NASA ritualistically starts making the rounds on social media. If we see the lights and concentration of colour then Deepawali seems to be a major festival in parts of Afghanistan (Hindu-Kush region), Chinese Occupied Kashmir (Aksai Chin), Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan (Indus Basin), Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (Azad Kashmir), Sri Lanka, and all across India (from Kashmir to the Andaman) apart from regional deviance or predilection for different colours. Further, for the alleged Diwali light spots to be burning so bright, megatons of magnesium, sulphur, and phosphorous (to say the least) would have been burnt and pollution equivalent to the annual output from America and China would have risen from the Indian sub-continent, in a single night, wreaking a major environmental catastrophe.

As early as in 2009, a watertight case sealed the fate for the photograph christened ‘How INDIA Looked on Diwali Night from the Sky.’ The image was contextually a ‘fake.’ The photograph is a NASA satellite composite put together from many different images taken at different times.

The original caption to the alleged photograph of How INDIA Looked on Diwali Night from the Sky reads:
“India at night, satellite view. This image is a composite showing the change in illumination over India from 1992-2003. Satellite data from 2003 is coloured red, 1998 is coloured green and 1992 is blue. The three data sets are composited to form the image. Night-time lights on the map that are white are lights that were present throughout the entire period. Areas that are marked by red have only appeared in 2003. Areas coloured green and blue were only present in 1998 and 1992 respectively but are no longer visible. This image was created by the Defence Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP), National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, USA.”

To review the composite satellite image and the caption readers may visit Alternatively, visit

The photograph or the visual, however, is not important but the idea behind it, which has serious ramifications. The construction and interpolation of an alternative truth and negotiation of meaning by the working class is of serious concern. It is possible to construct alternate truths and let the media (social media in this case) do the rest. Often, behaviour psychologists, agents of the ruling elites, and online advertisers make use of such tactics. This technique is not limited to visual communication; in fact, it can help percolate any information requiring a simple contagion to diffuse as truth!

This incident, as have other countless examples, demonstrates the efficacy of any form of media (especially social media) as a tool to build convincing alternative truths and how interested parties (vested interests) can use this aspect as a semi-politico media complex to re-construct the (imaginary and euphoric) notion of ‘nation,’ specially amongst the Indian diaspora. Further, such social constructs of alternative truths always help the impoverished and denied masses with a dose of opiated nationalism and a false sense of progressive identity. What gives credence to the alternative truths on social media are their supposed inherent democratic credentials. True, the democratic potential of media increases the working classes’ access to information, which may lead to a functionally better-informed work force. However, at the same time, it leads to issues of information overload and practices of disinformation (through corporate and governmental malfeasance) generally with the complicity of the favoured elite or their agents. Both, information overload and practices of disinformation (propaganda) result in re-enforcement of prevalent and socially accepted norms and behaviour, i.e. status quo.

This construction of an alternative truth suits the agenda of the ruling elite. In fact, the elite class aids and abets most constructions of alternative truths. In some instances, it directly plants and grafts such constructs, thereby, curtailing and regulating the working class and their hopes & aspirations, while sanitising the social environs of any signs of class struggle or dissent - real or perceived. Any well-informed consumer of the internet knows that in the world of social media there is hardly a website not spiced with little icons encouraging a consumer to share, like, comment, publish, and so on. Just a few pixels square, these icons are signifiers of the potent tools for influencing people’s lives. They strongly influence and in some instances govern the way the working class generates and consumes all forms of data. It is important to understand that “the instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo.” (Gladwell, 2010) Another point that is noteworthy, is that there are 800 million active Facebook users (Facebook, 2011), 100 million active tweeters (Twitter, 2011), over 4 billion cellular phone subscribers by late 2008 (International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 2008) and these people actively consume and gratify themselves with new technology media products & services. The data available to an everyday consumer is phenomenal and beyond her/his capability and ability to process and negotiate meaning. Indeed, the age of Web 2.0 is the age of ‘communication overload’. This information overload suits the favoured governing elite of the third world, when in reality these selected few are by-products of the process of ‘manufacturing consent’ (Herman & Chomsky, 1988), which replaced the Era of Colonial Empires. The super elites, the custodians of post-colonial hegemony, sit smugly enthroned in the western/developed world, manipulating, as biased gatekeepers, all data (information) to engage in subversion of universal rights and aspirations by the engineering of consent. Ironically, the ruling elite subscribe to manufacturing consent when dealing with their own working class and media. It is, therefore, of little surprise that technology, technological innovations, and media ownership should be concentrated in the hands of the few. In fact, all key industrial and production units in any society are always owned by the watchdog elite (agents of the ruling elite - second tier in the hegemony of manufacturing consent), though not necessarily by the ruling elites themselves (barring in the third world).

So, coming back to the photograph, if everyone knows that the image is a ‘fake’ (in the Diwali context), then, why should this image virally surface every year? What is in the image that makes it so endearing to Indians and people of Indian origin? Does the caption, ‘How INDIA Looked on Diwali Night from the Sky,’ fulfil any of J. L. Austin’s (1962) ‘felicity conditions’ required of some ‘performative utterances’? Alternatively, is this image, as Émile Durkheim (February 1, 1912) would have suggested, a visual symbol acting as a catalyst to achieve ‘collective effervescence,’ which in the eyes of some interested party/s serves to help unify Indian (read Hindu) society? Is there an ulterior motive, as was in the case of Babri Masjid/Ram Janam Bhoomi movement… is some individual or a politico-religious entity attempting to gauge public opinion or seek public (read majority’s) approval? Any person or organization depends, according to E. L. Bernays, “ultimately on public approval, and is therefore faced with the problem of engineering the public’s consent to a program or goal…When the public is convinced of the soundness of an idea, it will proceed to action.” (Bernays, 1947, p. 114) However, it may still early and the data insufficient and inadequate for any scientific/rational inference…or, is it?

Austin, J. L. (1962). How to Do Things with Words (2nd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, London, Oxford, New York 1976.
Bernays, E. L. (1947, March). The Engineering of Consent. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 250(1), 113-120. doi:10.1177/000271624725000116
Durkheim, E. (February 1, 1912). 'The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (May 17, 2008 ed.). (M. S. Cladis, Ed., & C. Cosman, Trans.) Oxford: The Oxford University Press.
Facebook. (2011, October 27). Press: Statistics. Retrieved October 27, 2011, from Facebook:
Gladwell, M. (2010, October 4). A Small Change, Why the revolution will not be tweeted. Retrieved October 27, 2011, from The New Yorker:
Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (1988). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
International Telecommunication Union (ITU). (2008, September 25). Press Release: Worldwide mobile cellular subscribers to reach 4 billion mark late 2008. (, Editor) Retrieved October 27, 2011, from International Telecommunication Union:
Twitter. (2011, October 27). Basics: What is Twitter. Retrieved October 27, 2011, from Twitter:

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ibn Rushd (Averroës), 1126-1198

I recently had a chance ‘encounter’ with works of Ibn Rushid, a philosopher, and found his writings interesting… so am sharing with you all…Also, please be warned that the article makes no claims of academic or theological authority on Ibn Rushd, Islam, and the Holy Book – The Quran.

Ibn Rushd (Averroës) (1126-1198) was one of the most important Islamic philosophers. His writing tend to focus on medicine and jurisprudence, but he is best known for his work on the philosophy of Aristotle. The excerpt, which follows, is from one of his best-known works. Written around 1190, he attempts to demonstrate that the study of philosophy is combatable with Islam.

The present text is from Ibn Rushd: On the Harmony of Religions and Philosophy, in Arabic Kitab fasl al-maqal, with its appendix (Damina). Appended is an extract from Kitab al-kashf`an manahij al-adilla, published and translated as: Averröes, The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, trans. Mohammed Jamil-al-Rahman (Baroda: A. G. Widgery, 1921), pp. 14-19.

…All that is wanted in an enquiry into philosophical reasoning has already been perfectly examined by the Ancients. All that is required of us is that we should go back to their books and see what they have said in this connection. If all that they say be true, we should accept it and if there be something wrong, we should be warned by it. Thus, when we have finished this kind of research we shall have acquired instruments by which we can observe the universe, and consider its general character. For so long as one does not know its general character one cannot know the created, and so long as he does not know the created, he cannot know its nature.

All things have been made and created. This is quite clear in itself, in the case of animals and plants, as God has said, "Verily the idols which you invoke, beside God, can never create a single fly, though they may all assemble for that purpose" [Qur'an 22.72]. We see an inorganic substance and then there is life in it. Therefore, we know (for certain) that there is an inventor and bestower of life, and He is God. Of the heavens, we know by their movements, which never become slackened, that they work for our benefit by divine solicitude, and are subordinate to our welfare. Such an appointed and subordinate object is always created for some purpose. The second principle is that for every created thing there is a creator. So it is right to say from the two foregoing principles that for every existent thing there is an inventor. There are many arguments, according to the number of the created things, which can be advanced to prove this premise. Thus, it is necessary for one who wants to know God, as He ought to be known to acquaint himself with the essence of things, so that he may get information about the creation of all things. For who cannot understand the real substance and purpose of a thing, cannot understand the minor meaning of its creation. It is to this that God refers in the following verse "Or do they not contemplate the heaven and the earth, and the things which God has created?" [Qur'an 7.184]. And so, a man who would follow the purpose of philosophy in investigating the existence of things, that is, would try to know the cause which led to its creation, and the purpose of it would know the argument of kindness most perfectly. These two arguments are those adopted by Law.

The verses of the Qur'an leading to a knowledge of the existence of God are dependent only on the two foregoing arguments. It will be quite clear to anyone who will examine closely the verses, which occur in the Divine Book in this connection. These, when investigated, will be found to be of three kinds: either they are verses showing the "arguments of kindness," or those mentioning the "arguments of creation,” or those which include both the kinds of arguments. The following verses may be taken as illustrating the argument of kindness. "Have we not made the earth for a bed, and the mountains for stakes to find the same? And have we not created you of two sexes; and appointed your sleep for rest; and made the night a garment to cover you; and destined the day to the gaining of your livelihood and built over you seven solid heavens; and placed therein a burning lamp? And do we not send down from the clouds pressing forth rain, water pouring down in abundance, that we may thereby produce corn, and herbs, and gardens planted thick with trees?" [Qur'an 77.6-16] and, "Blessed be He Who has placed the twelve signs in the heavens; has placed therein a lamp by day, and the moon which shines by night" [Qur'an 25.62] and again, "Let man consider his food" [Qur'an 80.24].

The following verses refer to the argument of invention, "Let man consider, therefore of what he is created. He is created of the seed poured forth, issuing from the loins, and the breast bones" [Qur'an 86.6]; and, "Do they not consider the camels, how they are created; the heaven, how it is raised; the mountains, how they are fixed; the earth how it is extended" [Qur'an 88.17]; and again "O man, a parable is propounded unto you; wherefore hearken unto it. Verily the idols which they invoke, besides God, can never create a single fly, though they may all assemble for the purpose" [Qur'an 22.72]. Then we may point to the story of Abraham, referred to in the following verse, "I direct my face unto Him Who has created heaven and earth; I am orthodox, and not of the idolaters" [Qur'an 6.79]. There may be quoted many verses referring to this argument. The verses comprising both the arguments are also many, for instance, "O men, of Mecca, serve your Lord, Who has created you, and those who have been before you: peradventure you will fear Him; Who has spread the earth as a bed for you, and the heaven as a covering, and has caused water to descend from heaven, and thereby produced fruits for your sustenance. Set not up, therefore, any equals unto God, against your own knowledge [Qur'an 2.19]. His words, "Who has created you, and those who have been before you," lead us to the argument of creation; while the words, "who has spread the earth" refer to the argument of divine solicitude for man. Of this kind also are the following verses of the Qur'an, "One sign of the resurrection unto them is the dead earth; We quicken the same by rain, and produce there from various sorts of grain, of which they eat" [Qur'an 36.32]; and, "Now in the creation of heaven and earth, and the vicissitudes of night and day are signs unto those who are endowed with understanding, who remember God standing, and sitting, and lying on their sides; and meditate on the creation of heaven and earth, saying O Lord, far be it from You, therefore deliver us from the torment of hellfire" [Qur'an 3.188]. Many verses of this kind comprise both the kinds of arguments.

This method is the right path by which God has invited men to a knowledge of His existence, and informed them of it through the intelligence which He has implanted in their nature. The following verse refers to this fixed and innate nature of man, "And when the Lord drew forth their posterity from the loins of the sons of Adam, and took them witness against themselves, Am I not your Lord? They answered, Yes, we do bear witness" [Qur'an 7.171]. So it is incumbent for one who intends to obey God, and follow the injunction of His Prophet, that he should adopt this method, thus making himself one of those learned men who bear witness to the divinity of God, with His own witness, and that of His angels, as He says, "God has borne witness, that there is no God but He, and the angels, and those who are endowed with wisdom profess the same; who execute righteousness; there is no God but He; the Mighty, the Wise" [Qur'an 3.16]. Among the arguments for both of themselves is the praise which God refers to in the following verse, "Neither is there anything which does not celebrate his praise; but you understand not their celebration thereof" [Qur'an 17.46].

Growing Older is Mandatory. Growing Up is Optional

Recently, a mail was delivered to me with a wonderful content and worthy of sharing with all. So, here it is:

"The first day of school our professor introduced himself and challenged us to get to know someone we didn't already know. I stood up to look around when a gentle hand touched my shoulder.

I turned around to find a wrinkled, little old lady beaming up at me with a smile that lit up her entire being.

She said, "Hi handsome. My name is Rose. I'm eighty-seven years old. Can I give you a hug?"

I laughed and enthusiastically responded, "Of course you may!" and she gave me a giant squeeze.

"Why are you in college at such a young, innocent age?" I asked.

She jokingly replied, "I'm here to meet a rich husband, get married, and have a couple of kids..."

"No seriously," I asked. I was curious what may have motivated her to be taking on this challenge at her age.

"I always dreamed of having a college education and now I'm getting one!" she told me.

After class we walked to the student union building and shared a chocolate milkshake.

We became instant friends. Every day for the next three months we would leave class together and talk nonstop. I was always mesmerized listening to this "time machine" as she shared her wisdom and experience with me.

Over the course of the year, Rose became a campus icon and she easily made friends wherever she went. She loved to dress up and she reveled in the attention bestowed upon her from the other students. She was living it up..

At the end of the semester we invited Rose to speak at our football banquet. I'll never forget what she taught us. She was introduced and stepped up to the podium. As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her three by five cards on the floor.

Frustrated and a little embarrassed she leaned into the microphone and simply said, "I'm sorry I'm so jittery. I gave up beer for Lent and this whiskey is killing me! I'll never get my speech back in order so let me just tell you what I know."

As we laughed she cleared her throat and began, "We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing.

There are only four secrets to staying young, being happy, and achieving success. You have to laugh and find humor every day. You've got to have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die.

We have so many people walking around who are dead and don't even know it!

There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up.

If you are nineteen years old and lie in bed for one full year and don't do one productive thing, you will turn twenty years old. If I am eighty -seven years old and stay in bed for a year and never do anything I will turn eighty-eight.

Anybody can grow older. That doesn't take any talent or ability. The idea is to grow up by always finding opportunity in change. Have no regrets.

The elderly usually don't have regrets for what we did, but rather for things we did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets."

She concluded her speech by courageously singing "The Rose"

She challenged each of us to study the lyrics and live them out in our daily lives. At the year's end Rose finished the college degree she had begun all those years ago.

One week after graduation Rose died peacefully in her sleep.

Over two thousand college students attended her funeral in tribute to the wonderful woman who taught by example that it's never too late to be all you can possibly be.

When you finish reading this, please send this peaceful word of advice to your friends and family, they'll really enjoy it!

These words have been passed along in loving memory of ROSE.

REMEMBER, GROWING OLDER IS MANDATORY. GROWING UP IS OPTIONAL. We make a Living by what we get, We make a Life by what we give.

God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage. If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.

"Good friends are like stars....... ..You don't always see them, but you know they are always there."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Issues and Challenges of Television Advertising: Empowering the Future Generation through Education.

Paper presented at the Eighth AIMS International Conference on Management (AIMS-8) jointly organized by  Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad ( and AIMS International-The Association of Indian Management Scholars ( January-1-4, 2011

Rashid Narain Shukul, Manipal University (Dubai Campus),
Bellukutty Sudhakar, Manipal University (Dubai Campus),


Advertising, a persuasive venture, is a complex phenomenon. It is today an intrinsic part of society, culture, history, and the economy — defying any simple or single definition. Some aspects of it are universal, while others are culturally specific. It is personal salesmanship metamorphosed into mediated communication. Most academicians agree that it sometimes provides new information, often cajoles, and always attempts to persuade. In addition to selling messages, advertising encodes cultural values and social ideals. Further, depending on one’s point of view, it is a positive or negative force in society and the economy.

In general, there are two ways that persuasion occurs, either through a rational, analytical process or through an instinctive, reactive process . The key features of the rational process include active listening, active thinking, focusing on the issue at hand, weighing the pros and cons, and reason and logic which dominate the process. In contrast, the key features of the instinctive, reactive persuasion process include passive listening, not thinking at all, not focused on the issue at hand, not analysing the arguments, and instinctive and mindless reactions dominate.

Raymond Williams (1997) recognized the historical role of advertising as a means of getting attention and providing information, which is the essence of James Laver's definition (De Vries, 1968, p. 6). Raymond concentrates on looking at advertising as a modern institution and a profession that evolved around 1800s in Britain and elsewhere, its commercial function, and its persuasive power.

In economics, there are two contradictory approaches to the role of advertising in the economy. One school of thought believes that advertising is a source of information for consumers who can use it to make better-informed decisions in the market place. This school of thought believes that advertising increases market efficiency by providing information about alternatives (Mitra & Lynch, 1995).

The alternate school of thought was made popular by Harvard economists such as John K. Galbraith. Galbraith, in his book, The Affluent Society, stated that advertising is manipulating the public by creating artificial needs and wants (Galbraith, 1958). Economists catering to this school of thought argue that advertising adds to cost, encourages consumers to perceive new wants and desires, and redirects the distribution of their scarce resources to acquire highly advertised products. Other disciplines too have their own priorities, for instance, Psychology emphasizes persuasion, Political Science - regulation, Sociology and Cultural Studies stress on gender, race, and class while Anthropology is concerned mainly with culture. Consumer myths, marketplace mythology, and mythmaking are central concepts used by advertising academicians and advertising professionals today. They define advertising as a form of mythmaking (Randazzo, 1993).

To sum up, Advertising is about desires, aspirations, and values. It identifies them, describes them, and offers satisfaction through the purchase and consumption of consumer goods. But, whose are the desires, aspirations, and values that advertising talks about? This definition of advertising suggests that the core values in most advertising copy are those of the middle class, or those who would aspire to be a part of it (Deresiewicz, 1998) . Advertisers use advertisements for various purposes with diverse possible effects. However, the core motivating factor for the producer-manufacturer-corporate establishment to use this mode on consumers is the persuasive power of the medium.


The term ‘Television’ has come to refer to all aspects of television programming and transmission as well. The medium, similar to any contemporary means of communication, acts as a link in the living rooms - like a magical bridge opened to the world. More than anything however, Television, perhaps is the most influential form of media as a primary storyteller (Oulette, 1997). According to George Gerbner, stories teach us ways of thinking about the world that stay with us for a lifetime. Storytelling has taken different forms throughout history; however with the advent of the electronic revolution and the introduction of the electronic storyteller the process of storytelling and television has changed, and thereby the process of enculturation (Jhally, 1997).


Children’s exposure to television advertising is often conceptualized as a simple by-product of their time spent watching television. In the late 1970s, a research team estimated that children viewed an average of about 20,000 commercials per year (Adler, et al., 1977). The formula was simple, average number of advertisements per hour multiplied by average number of hours a child viewed television during a day, and all this multiplied by 365 days. It was estimated, using the same approach, that children typically viewed more than 30,000 product commercials per year in the late 1980s (Condry, Bence, & Scheibe, 1988). This estimate rose to 40,000 television advertisements per year for children by early 1990s (Kunkel & Gantz, 1992). Indeed, with the growing proliferation of 15-second spots, even these enormous figures may be a gross underestimation of the true number of commercials viewed by children in the new millennium (Comstock & Scharrer, 1999).

Advertisements are growing not only more prolific but are also being made more appealing for children by many of the advertising and marketing campaigns who use popular children’s television and movie characters to attract and retain children’s attention . For many children thus, advertising media has become a normal part of life. Anderson et al. (1986) had raised a serious concern over time spent by children and young ones using or watching television being upped to between 20 and 30 times greater than the time spent associating with their family. The latest trend, taking into account the nuclear structure of the family and working parents, indicates that children in the United Kingdom and the United States may, on an average, spend between four and five hours a day, outside school time, watching some form of electronic media (Cooke, 2002). This may expose children to much potentially harmful material. Kunkel (2001) suggested that today’s children in the United States might view more than 40,000 advertisements every year. The huge number of advertisements on television means that many children spend a significant proportion of their lives watching advertisements. Although it seems to be an issue of concern for most academicians, a study by R. K. Gupta et al (1994), also found that television viewing enhances cognitive development, and conveys knowledge, skills and information to the child. It motivates learning and imparts general awareness.

Recent developments in advertising for children indicate a tendency of marketers and advertisers to employ some form of animation in children's television advertising. This helps them to catch children's attention during commercial programming. The technological advancements, especially in computer graphics, allow a greater flexibility, variability, and creativity in the elaboration of advertisements. On the other hand, the practice of taking advantage of the improvements in computer animation and special effects seems to suggest that marketers may be experiencing an increasing challenge to capture children's attention. They are therefore compelled to be even more creative, requiring new and improved ways of reaching them, particularly because children of the 1990s grew up accustomed to technology, consumer electronics, and video games.

One aspect of today’s media dominated society that is of particular concern is that the advertising industry aggressively seeks to understand, anticipate, and influence the perceived needs and desires of young consumers. By taking an increasingly disciplined approach to market research, marketers have gained a wealth of information about children. Successful marketing relies on correctly representing customer lifestyles and making products relevant to their lives. The range of advertising styles, techniques, and channels used, reach children and youth to foster brand loyalty and encourage product use. Some of these approaches are market segmentation; television advertising; sales promotions at schools, stores, and sporting events; multimedia exposure; celebrity endorsement; kid’s clubs; product placement; and advertorials. In addition, retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers, the media, schools, and corporate donors are creating mutually beneficial partnerships to gain access to, and capture the attention of young consumers. One of their long-term goals seems to be to develop a market for tomorrow’s adult consumers.


The pervasiveness of marketing to children is of particular concern because of their inherent vulnerability to commercial persuasion. Children under the age of eight do not recognize the persuasive intent of ads and tend to accept them as accurate and unbiased (Kunkel D. , 2001). It was also found that a 30-second commercial can influence brand preferences in children as young as two years old. As young children have not developed the cognitive skills and abilities of older children and adults, they do not grasp commercial messages as do mature audiences, and, therefore, are susceptible to the persuasive intent of advertisements. Many researchers have documented evidence that there is an age-related difference in children’s understanding, and, thereby, the way television advertising affects them. Such evidence has formed the basis for a wide range of policies in the United States intended to protect children from advertising.

It is obvious that Advertising enjoys an unfair advantage over youngsters due to their limited comprehension of the nature, purpose, and intent of commercial appeals (Kunkel D. , 1990); (Young, 1990); (Kunkel & Roberts, 1991). These policies form the foundation of a broad societal consensus that children require special treatment and protection from the unbridled efforts of the economic marketplace (Kunkel, Wilcox, Cantor, Palmer, Linn, & Dowrick, 2004) . In some western nations, the authorities have tried to protect children by establishing age limits and ratings. However, all children and their parents do not always understand the ratings, or they tend to belittle their value. The year 1874 saw the English Parliament enacting the Infants’ Relief Act to protect children “from their own lack of experience and from the wiles of pushing tradesmen and moneylenders” (James, 1965, p. 8). The Infants’ Relief Act is one of the earliest known modern day governmental policies recognising children’s vulnerability to commercial exploitation. The core issues underlying this 20th century policy remain much the same today even more than a century later.

Advertising in India falls under the purview of statutory and self-regulatory authority. Regulatory authority of all broadcast media (cable channels and ground stations operating within and directed at India) is the responsibility of the Information & Broadcasting Ministry of the Government of India. Special protection for children is included briefly in the India Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act (1994) and in the self-regulatory code of the Advertising Standards Council of India (Hawkes, 2007, p. 34). However, there is still serious concern that the basic tenet of advertising regulation – that it should not mislead – is not being observed. One legal expert stated that “children in India seem to be particularly vulnerable to the infringement of these regulations which is unfortunately a common occurrence” (Vadhera, Quarter 4, 2004). Two efforts are being made to address this situation, one statutory and one self-regulatory. Yet, it is apparent that there is plenty of room to improve to protect young impressionable minds from commercial exploitation.

In today’s globalised scenario, some researchers argue, the opening of regional and local markets to international business has increased consumerism and created an appetite for what is American in many developing countries. The spread of American television and the general spread of Western mass media programming to the developing world have acted as a catalyst in increasing people’s consumerist appetite. Writing on this process, Schiller (1991) says that the goal of Western media is the creation of good consumers. Exposure to Western media, including advertising, has increased consumerism and created the desire to possess advertised goods. This aspect of globalisation affects everyone, but it may have its largest impact on children. According to D’Silva et al (2007), advertising forms, a significant part of American television programming, both overt and embedded, because advertisers constantly seek an effective means of influencing consumer behaviour. This trend is now spreading to Indian shores. A number of studies show that children who are heavy viewers of television consume more advertised foods and want more advertised toys than do children who are light viewers of television (Atkin C. K., 1982); (Goldberg M. , 1990); (Robertson T. S., Ward, Gatignon, & Klees, 1989).

Most of these studies focus on American children, and it is important to find out whether such behaviour is or is likely to be replicated by children in countries like India. A quick glance at Third World & Indian television programming makes it obvious that embedded advertising is pervasive. Imported programming, particularly from core countries, forms a substantial part of the programming in India. Of particular interest, therefore, are its influences on the vulnerable segment of Developing Societies population – children. Although children generally are very perceptive and intelligent, the fact is that they are considerably less informed - as compared to adults – and, thereby, are a largely vulnerable audience for hard advertising. Advertising converts a child's natural energy into a permanently heightened state of acquisitiveness. It moulds the self-concept of a child on material acquisitions. Some toy manufacturers use selling strategies, which make children who do not have their products feel ‘un-cool’, or ‘inferior’. In 2004, the Information & Broadcasting Ministry (of India) began to monitor actively and decide on violations of its television advertising codes for TV as per the Cable Television Act’s Rules (The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995).

In 2002, they set up an inter-ministerial committee, which has since been reviewing complaints, issuing notices to television channels, and deciding whether advertisements violate the rules. A bill was introduced on the floor of the parliament, which was passed as the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act 2002. However, in 2006, the Ministry set up another 30-member committee “representing diverse interests” to rewrite the programme and advertising codes for the Cable Television Act and its Rules, and to develop a mechanism by which to enforce the codes, a process which is far from complete, till date. It is reported that the codes developed by the committee are primarily adapted from the United Kingdom’s Ofcom codes, with specific sub-sections on children and food advertising (Hawkes, 2007, p. 34); (Express, 2005).

In 2008, the Central Government amended the Cable Television Network Rules through a gazette notification to ban ‘surrogate advertisements” in order to prevent tobacco and liquor brands from circumventing the law. According to the notification, no advertisement would be permitted which encourages “directly or indirectly sale or consumption of cigarettes, tobacco products, wine, alcohol, liquor or other intoxicants.” The Ministry of Consumer Affairs also recently set up a committee to make recommendations to confront misleading advertising (Joshua, 2008) .


The growth and development of modern day advertising as a social system, an important component of mass media, connects with the growth of an economy into industrial, mass, and affluent society. The more a society develops wider circulation of information through nongovernmental agencies, mass production of goods & services, high degree of reliance on technology, and highly specialized division of labour.

People in developed and developing societies rely on the established Industrial Order or the system called “the market” to satisfy their needs. People no longer produce what they consume. In fact, they earn wages by selling their labour so that they can buy the goods produced by others for consumption. It is here that we see advertising’s principal function – to inform and persuade consumers - come into play. Today, advertising is all-pervasive and a part of our daily environment. Advertisements aired on television are now a measure of a programme’s success (Jamieson & Campbell, 2000, p. 156).

To survive, maintain and sustain itself Advertising seeks to generate profits, which in turn requires attracting sizeable audiences. Mass media audiences fulfil this requirement of sizeable audience. Advertising, therefore, is subject to various influences. Changing demographics have also had an impact on advertising. Today, target audiences are referred to by advertisers as ‘upscale’ or ‘downscale’ . Some nations can also influence and control their media greatly. In addition, powerful corporations have enormous influence on mainstream media. Further, the market pressures that affect these companies, affect the media as well and hence, the media itself is largely driven by the forces of the market.

However, the niche and segmented audiences also consume mediated messages but negotiation of text from mass media remains a major source for most advertisers. Thus, it is of little surprise that television and commercials (advertisements) on television remain a major source of debate for impact studies. Some of our fear and distrust arises from a belief that the mass media are monolithic, owned and / or controlled by ever fewer people who tend to speak in one voice (Jamieson & Campbell, 2000, p. 9).

The emerging ownership pattern, which also seems to fuel our suspicion, is that fewer media conglomerates own more and more media outlets. The concentrated ownership of mass media seems to work against alternative sources of opinion / diversity of opinion; this seems to work against democracy. The fact that a broadcast signal is no respecter of geo-political boundaries means that a message from one society finds its way into another with diverse traditions, patterns of social, economic & cultural life, needs and possibilities, unhindered. Increasingly, national broadcasting is being replaced by an international medium through satellites, making it available to people in different countries across the globe. The Cable News Network entered into an agreement with the Soviet Union in 1986 to use the Intersputnik satellite to increase its effective footprint to the Indian sub-continent & adjoining arena. Along with its use of Pan Am Star transponder, CNN is today transmitting its signal to over 85 sovereign states over and above the United States of America (Tuch, 1990, p. 122); (Carmody, 1989).

The ability of mediated messages to flow across international boundaries has had an impact on the politics of many a nation. Today, the world has witnessed the rise of global media and with it the rapid fall of informational barriers though economic barriers tend to be more tenacious. In fact, television commercials do not even require the audience to be either literate or multi-lingual. There is a steady decline in the use of text or copy in advertisements and the increase in display and illustrations, as pointed out by Daniel Boorstin (1962); Guy Debord (1975); Jean Baudrillard (1975); (Baudrillard, Simulations, 1983) and Leiss et al. (Leiss, Kline, & Jhally, 1991), concerning the increased importance of images in contemporary culture. And with this trend, yet another important issue of concern has emerged, a shift of emphasis within advertisements away from communicating specific product information towards communicating the social and symbolic uses of the products.

Consumer society has caused a "profound transformation in social life" involving "the change in the function of goods from being primarily satisfiers of wants to being primarily communicators of meanings" (Leiss, Kline, & Jhally, 1991). In the consumer society, individuals identify themselves as consumers and obtain gratification from consuming products. Hence, marketers and advertisers by associating their products with certain life-styles, symbolic values, and pleasures generate systems of meaning, prestige, and identity.

According to the Critical theory of Advertising, advertising plays a key role in the transition to a new image culture where discursive concepts are replaced by aesthetic figures as a mode of cultural communication and power (Jhally, 1987); (Leiss, Kline, & Jhally, 1986). In today’s environment, advertising is playing increasingly important roles in subtly shaping consumer needs and continuing to channel desire into various products, fashion, and life-styles (Kellner, 1989a).


Connecting and stratifying peoples around the world, globalization shrinks time and space, and intensifies awareness of the world as a single place (Robertson R. , 1992). Globalization and consolidation are also leading to rapid changes in the advertising industry (Levitt, 1983); (Kennedy, 1993); (Legrain, 2003); (Mittelman, 2000). Clearly a process involving the compression of international time and space, and intensification of trans-national relations is taking place (Hargittai & Centeno, 2001).

Scholars often examine “change,” and its closely kindred concept “difference,” as a vehicle for getting into the particularities of a culture (Nederveen, 2003); (D'Silva, Futrell, & Reyes, 2007, p. 254). While some researchers focus on cultural change, others confess that some things have remained the same. In particular, many deeply held cultural beliefs persist even in the face of momentous changes. To a large extent, globalization is about the negotiation (sometimes referred to as a “clash”) that occurs between change introduced from outside a culture and the conservatism that sustains a culture.


Advertising, it is argued, represents a free flow of information and helps people exercise choice – a valuable instrument of democracy. On the other hand, it can be said that advertising’s current role in society is to a degree exploitative, wasteful, and manipulative (Ewen, 1988). It indirectly represents a form of domination that perpetuates capitalist hegemony (Leymore, 1975) and obstructs participatory democracy and the development of individual autonomy (Schudson, 1984); (McChesney, October, 2000). From a historical, developmental perspective, advertising can be said to erode traditional social structures of meaning, which it replaces with ideals and images of privatized commodity consumption.
In a Capitalist Democracy, advertising attempts to assure and assuage its audience and to promote the belief that individual commodity consumption is the solution to all problems (Haug, 1986). Advertising also undermines the psycho-cultural base for a public sphere and democratic participation in social life (Best & Kellner, 1991) A close examination of the relationship between increasingly concentrated and powerful corporate advertisers and increasingly fragmented and isolated consumers/citizens reveals that advertising's practices and trends contradict democratic ideals and goals (Ewen, 2001).


Advertising has often been charged with promoting consumerism in developing societies. Concurrent with the development of consumerism has been the creation of new and sophisticated types of marketing and advertising. While these effects of consumerism benefit a developing society, the weight of the argument concerning the effects of consumerism lies heavily with the alternative approach. From an alternative approach, Sterns (2001) suggests that consumerism describes a basic function of our society that is populated by people who are no longer concerned with subsistence, but desire to acquire and accumulate goods.

It has been argued often that western-style marketing and advertising are causing the spread of conspicuous consumption with negative consequences for developing countries. While some argue that globalization is raising the standard of living in low income countries, “more than one-fifth of humankind still lives in acute poverty” (Mueller, 1996, p. 250), critics point out that even the poor have become subsumed by consumerism and that, “local governments in developing countries must consciously decide where valuable resources are to be spent” (Mueller, 1996, p. 256).


Satellites, force multipliers, have profoundly influenced advertising. Today millions across the globe watch a single television commercial. This has brought into play ‘International Advertising’ (Jones, 2000), where the global players do not advertise on a regional basis but the goods and services in a worldwide market. Technological innovations have also influenced the production design. Computer aided animation has captured fantasy into a smooth flowing reality on screen. The success of computer creatures led to an explosion of Computer Generated Imagery or CGI in all media. Manipulation of digital pictures is a valuable technology enabled tool for producers of advertising content. The ability to alter motion pictures and visuals by computer software and technology can be considered a serious threat to the integrity of the profession because it distorts the historical record of a culture.

On the other hand, advertisers themselves use technology as a signifier in advertisements such as those of Mobile phones, Notebook computers, and cars (to name a few) in appealing to the fantasies and dreams of consumers to become part of the elite class. Portrayal of images of successful businesspersons and elitists suggests the luxury of mobility that comes from using the advertised company's product. Such advertisements tend to lead consumers to falsely believe that the globalization process is having a positive effect on everyone and eventually we will all become richer.


Media’s stereotypical portrayal of women reflects society’s male-dominated view. Women are often portrayed as sex objects designed only for man’s pleasure, as wives whose chief duty is to serve their husbands, and as mothers who must often singlehandedly bring up their children. Women are portrayed as “being less intelligent than men, being inferior” (Lester, 2000, p. 90). Stereotypes in media are also often culturally biased. Often, the only place where people regularly and over a long time come across other cultural groups is in the pages of newspapers and magazines, on television, and in the movies. However, when most of those media images are misleading, viewers often accept them as reality and fail to realize their prejudices. To change people’s mind about diversity may require far-reaching changes in the entire culture.


False advertising, in essence, is the passing off goods or services as something or someone’s they are not. It is the usurpation of good will and sales by unfair means. False advertising is prohibited and actionable in most societies by various state statutes, which prohibit deceptive trade practices and unfair competition.


Sometimes, news stories or editorials are subtle product advertisements, giving rise to new terms in critical circles, such as advertorials. Advertisements designed to simulate editorial content, also known as infomercial, offer commercial information to prospective clients -the underlying idea being that people give more credibility to editorial content than to paid advertisements, since all producers would claim their product to be the best. Editorial content however, would suggest that an outside agency has endorsed the product or service.


Advertainment is where advertisers focus on creating entertaining branded content. This does not mean simply placing your brand in the context of pre-existing programming. Advertainment instead creates entertaining content and weaves a brand message into it. This type of advertainment represents a trend in television advertising: creating advertising that is so entertaining, people want to watch.


With the growth and evolution of mass media, advertisers have used this means of communications to inform a large number of people about their products, thereby, allowing a free flow of innovative ideas and concepts. However, over time, as advertising methods and techniques became sophisticated, enticing, shaping and even creating consumerism and needs where there had been none before or turning luxuries into necessities, became the order of the day.

Various public and free media, such as the numerous channels available in most countries, sought subsidization of their running costs with advertising. However, as corporate competition increased, so too has the need for returns on massive expenditures on advertising. Producers of goods and services spend millions to win the hearts of their audiences and influence their choices towards their products and ideas. The sheer amount of money this brings to media companies is significant and in many cases forms their main form of support. Hence, if something is reported that the advertiser does not like, the media company risks losing much needed revenue to stay alive.


Commercialization of public and religious holidays helps promote sales as well. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Deepawali, Id, Holi, Makkarsankranti or Independence Day (15th of August) in India, like in numerous other countries, sees a high amount of consumerism. The purchasing power of children, and their purchasing influence, has forced marketers and advertisers to deliberately adopt focused strategies in an attempt to influence those dollars (Barbaro & Earp, 2008).

Throughout the history of children's television advertising, researchers have criticized in various ways the use of television commercials directed towards children. Winick et al. (1973) argued that while advertising directed towards children stimulated their materialism and consumption, it also encouraged conflicts with their peers and parents for the same materialistic issues. They further advocated that, because children have not yet fully developed reasoning abilities, they are unable to evaluate the conveyed message, which could contain non-rational or unrealistic information that could be deceptive. Children, therefore, should be protected from advertising.

Today, researchers have explored a whole plethora of topics reflecting the child as a consumer, its knowledge of products, brands, advertising, pricing, decision-making strategies, and parental influence and negotiation approaches. In addition, the social aspects of the consumer role, exploring the development of consumption symbolism, social motives for consumption, and materialism have been examined in detail.

On the whole however, behavioural studies tend to focus on the extent to which children are persuaded by advertisements. They focus on children’s preferences for certain products over others and/or by the requests made for products in response to advertising. Studies on the behavioural effects of advertising, notably, find that television has a major effect on the products children ask for and that increased television-watching leads to increased requests for advertised products.

In addition, television advertising creates misconceptions among children about the nutritional values of foods and ways to maintain positive health. Health experts believe that constant promotion of high-calorie food significantly contributes to the epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States by encouraging preferences for junk food and encouraging poor eating habits.

However, according to George Gerbner, the mass media cultivate attitudes and values, which are already present in a culture: the media maintain and propagate these values amongst members of a culture, thus binding it together. He argues that television tends to cultivate middle-of-the-road political perspectives. Gerbner and his colleagues (Gerbner & Gross, 1976) & (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, &Signorielli, 1986) contend that television has a small but significant influence on the attitudes, beliefs, and judgments of viewers concerning the social world. The focus is on ‘heavy viewers’ (Miller K., 2005). People who watch a lot of television programmes are likely to be more influenced by the ways in which television programmes frame the world than are individuals who watch less, especially regarding topics of which the viewer has little first-hand experience. Light viewers may have more sources of information than heavy viewers. Judith van Evra (1990, p. 167) claims that due to inexperience, young viewers may depend on television for information more than other viewers do.

In addition to immediate obvious advertising, there is also the persuasive influence in television shows (The National Readership Studies Council, 2006). Commercially crafted words and images promoting from unhealthy foods to toys and commercial vehicles confront today’s child wherever the child may choose to turn, in fact even commodities & services like paints & distemper to vacations that children cannot directly need are targeted at them in the hope that they may act as a pressure group for parents. Advertising messages designed to capture children’s imagination, appear on television and radio, on the internet, at the cinema, in comics and magazines, on food labels and even at school. Whilst most parents and many medical, health and education professionals agree with the Government advice that fatty, sugary and salty foods should be consumed only infrequently and in limited quantities, food advertising targeted at children portrays these unhealthy foods as attractive food choices. The food sector, as also other goods’ manufacturers & service providers recognize television as a particularly powerful advertising medium, which reaches tens of millions of children and adults on a daily basis. Some European countries, most notably Sweden, recognize the need to protect children from commercial pressures created by television advertising and have well-established controls to ensure that advertisements are not targeted to children under the age of 12 years.


To evaluate the effects of television advertising on children, it is pertinent to conceptualise the impact of television advertising as intended and unintended. Intended or “primary” effect, as Comstock and Paik (1991) call it, of most advertisements on television is the direct promotion of the advertiser’s economic interest, i.e., generating product purchase requests and increasing product consumption. Although, each advertisement may have as its primary purpose promoting the sales of its featured product, the cumulative impact from the totality of television advertising to children may exert far broader sociological influence. These effects are categorised as unintended or “secondary” effects.

Advertisers are interested in outcomes such as viewers’ recall for the product, desire for the advertised product, and (depending on the age of the child) either purchase influence attempts or actual purchase of the product. Certain advertising strategies tend to enhance the effectiveness of advertising appeals to children. Finally, research also makes clear that children’s purchase-influence attempts have a relatively high degree of success. Frequent parent yielding to children’s purchase requests has been reported in studies that rely on parent self-reports (Frideres, 1973) & (Ward S. &., 1972) as well as unobtrusive observation of behaviour in the supermarket (Atkin C. K., 1978) & (Galst & White, 1976). Thus, it will be correct to state that television commercials, when directed at children, are highly successful at accomplishing their intended goal of securing product sales.

The “secondary” effects, some researchers have suggested, of television advertising to children include increase in materialistic attitudes (Goldberg & Gorn, 1978) & (Moschis & Moore, 1982). The influence of television advertising on children’s eating habits is worth mentioning. Many studies (Dietz, 1990) & (Jeffery, McLellarn, & Fox, 1982) convincingly demonstrate the influencing/persuasive power of television advertising on children. The general finding that eating habits formed during childhood often persist throughout life underscores the serious implications of advertising influence in this realm (Jacobson & Maxwell, 1994). Further, there are some modest short-term effects of influence of commercials for sensitive products not intended for children, including drugs and medicine as well as alcoholic beverages (Almarsdottir & Bush, 1992); (Butter, Weikel, Otto, Wright, & Deinzer, 1991); (Robertson, Rossiter, & Gleason, 1979) & (Rossiter & Robertson, 1980). Children’s pestering their parents for a product they have just seen advertised on TV is often taken as evidence of immediate effects.

Another important area of unintended effects worth considering is the parent-child conflict that emerges when parents refuse to respond to children’s purchase-influence attempts (Robertson T. , 1979). In one study, Atkin (1975) found that more than half of the children reported becoming angry or arguing when a toy request was denied; in another (Atkin C. K., 1978), he observed high rates of child disappointment and anger in response to the majority of parent refusals for cereal requests at the supermarket. Other studies have also confirmed these patterns (Goldberg & Gorn, 1978) & (Sheikh & Moleski, 1977).

Messages conveyed in mass media are more effective when it comes to calling attention to products and phenomena than they are at bringing about long-term changes in attitudes or behaviour. It is worth noting that television has long been the predominant medium that advertisers have chosen for marketing products to children. Proponents of television advertising point out that it is difficult to isolate direct effects of advertising from other interpersonal influences.

Furnham (1996) finds it impossible to isolate the influence of TV commercials from other influences. Furnham argues, further, that we have to take into account factors such as the age of the child, the family’s socio-economic status, the parents’ level of education and cultural background as well as the product category in question when we discuss influence. However, despite his conviction it is impossible to demonstrate the direct effects of TV commercials in isolation from other factors.

To sum up then there is consensus among researchers that family, siblings and friends exert a stronger influence on children’s lives than mass media in general and TV advertising in particular. This has long been considered an established truth among mass communication researchers. All these studies point to the hypothesis that interpersonal communication is far more effective when it comes to influencing attitudes, conceptions and behaviour than mass communication. The main difficulties we face when we attempt to assess the effects of media content are (1) to specify the various influences, independent from others and (2) to specify the interaction between interpersonal and mass communication. Questions that need to be answered are, for example: How do messages carried in the mass media penetrate and circulate through groups and interpersonal networks? If a friend tells a child that he should obtain something s/he has seen in a TV commercial, is the source of influence the child’s friend, or the commercial?

Surveying the research on children and television, we found that many different social and market agents having economic and political stakes in the issue are active in the policy debate. Proponents as well as opponents of television advertising aimed at children have initiated and financed studies, the results of which often serve their respective interests. The fact that a majority of the studies on this subject have been steered by extra-scientific interests, e.g., the policy decision, whether or not advertising to young children should be banned or regulated, means that the studies have had different starting points and perspectives. Thus, we find that those favouring TV advertising aimed at children prefer to cite research based on observations, the results of which indicate that even very young children can recognize and comprehend commercial messages. Opponents of such advertising tend, on the other hand, to cite findings based on verbal responses that show that only after some years can children distinguish commercials from other programme content and perceive its intent.

Children are required to acquire two key information-processing skills to negotiate meaning and “mature” comprehension of advertising messages. First, children should be able to discriminate at a perceptual level commercial from non-commercial content, and secondly, children must be able to understand the persuasive intent behind advertising and adjust their interpretation of commercial messages consistent with that knowledge. Most researchers agree that these capabilities develop over time, largely as a function of cognitive growth and development rather than the accumulation of any particular amount of experience with media content (Kunkel D., 2001).Due to the similarities in terms of production conventions and featured characters in both children’s television programs and commercials, it is little wonder that young children experience difficulty in distinguishing between the program and commercial content.
There is evidence that young children often fail to discriminate between a program and a commercial (Palmer & McDowell, 1979). Even if they acquire the ability to correctly apply the label “commercial” to advertisements, they do not necessarily understand that such content is separate and conceptually distinct from the program material. (Kunkel D., 1988a), It is apparent that the primary purpose of all television advertising is to influence the attitudes and subsequent behaviour of its viewers. Adults use a defence mechanism, a kind of cognitive filter, which helps them comprehend the intent and purpose of the commercial. However, young children, by virtue of their limited cognitive development, typically lack the ability to apply such protective and cognitive mechanisms to their understanding of television advertising. Given the complexities involved in appreciating the source’s perspective in the advertising process, there is a strong theoretical basis to expect that young children will have difficulty recognizing the persuasive intent underlying television advertising (Roberts, 1982).


It is noted that education and democracy are highly correlated. Education raises the benefits of civic engagement (Glaeser, Ponzetto, & Shleifer, 2007). “The uneducated man or the man with limited education is a different political actor from the man who has achieved a higher level of education” (Almond & Verba, 1989, p. 316). Democracy’s mainstay, citizenship, requires responsibility and exercise of such responsibility well and thoroughly in turn requires the need to be able to see the world and to see through media’s limited and inadequate representations of it (Silverstone, 2004).

Media literacy has often been described as a facilitation of a greater understanding of the persuasive intent behind advertising (Austin & Johnson, 1997a). This narrow definition presumes that by being forewarned of the persuasive intent, both adults and children can acquire necessary tools to effectively negotiate undesired effects of advertising in general. As the importance of media, information and communications in society grows media literacy has come to imply the ability to access, analyse, evaluate, and communicate information in a variety of format including print and electronic/digital. It includes the ability to both read (comprehend) and write (create, design, produce). It should lead to individuals attaining competencies develop critical thinking skills in order to question, analyse and evaluate any mediated information/message (Considine, 1995).

Media literacy Education and training has long been proposed as a necessary intervention in order to protect consumers, especially children, from the negative impact of persuasive communication such as advertising and product placement and to enable children to make informed choices before purchasing, or requesting, products (Kennedy D. G., 2004); (Rogers, 2002); (Armstrong & Merrie, 1988). There is some evidence that specific interventions in other areas, particularly alcohol use, tobacco use, body image issues and eating disorders, can be effective in changing both perceptions and behaviours and that pre-adolescents can be successfully targeted (Gonzales, Glik, Davoudi, & Ang, 2004); (Irving & Berel, 2001); (Austin & Johnson, 1997a); (Austin & Johnson, 1997b). Immediate effects included an understanding of the persuasive intent of advertising and a decreased perception regarding the desirability of products such as alcohol.

Concerned Children’s Advertisers (CCA) is a non-profit organization of Canadian companies established in 1990 which includes such flagship brand owners as Coca-Cola, McDonalds Restaurants, Kelloggs and Nestlé. For over fifteen years, CCA have provided a wide range of educational programs for children on topics such as drug use, self-esteem, coping with bullying and media literacy. Television public service announcements addressing each topic are aired using donated television time (Loblaw, 2001). Similarly, Media Smart a U.K. based media literacy program focuses specifically on advertising, and has been working towards increasing the ability of children to think critically about information from the media to which they are exposed (Media Smart 2003a and b). They base their recommendations for intervention on Section 6.7.1 of the British Communications Act: “This will help people to understand the distinctions between different media services, to appraise their content critically, to use the tools which are increasingly becoming available to navigate the electronic world, and to become empowered digital citizens. It will also help children to learn how to maintain critical distinctions such as those between fact and fiction (especially in interactive environments) or between reportage and advocacy, as well as how to assess commercial messages" (Media Smart, 2003a p.1).

By contributing media literacy resources, the marketing industry may be seen positioning itself as being part of the solution to these problems and thereby seeks to avoid wide restrictions or outright bans on marketing communication, particularly for food products deemed to have little nutritional value directed at children (Kleinman, 2003a); (Rogers, 2002); (Teinowitz, 2001). The need to be seen to be taking positive action primarily in order to avert potential restrictions on advertising, says Cincotta (2005), is openly acknowledged by some sectors of the industry itself. Further, Hobbs (1998) suggests that such programmes are also in the interests of media organizations that support the interventions in order to reduce criticism of the potential negative effects of the media themselves. Considine (2002) somewhat cynically suggests that there is also an element of exploitation of the issue of media literacy by all parties simply for its rhetorical value.

Not much research has been done about how well adults themselves understand online content, but small-scale studies suggest that they are often unaware of the origin of information and may lack the skills to take into account the point of view from which that information is presented. This begs the question, that if parents themselves are not media literate how will they help their children understand the implications behind the advertisement? Although viewers are well aware when they are confronted with commercial messages on television (Sancho & Wilson, 2001), the changing conditions of advertising, sponsorship, branding, merchandising, paid-for-content, and other forms of promotion through broadcasting, the internet and mobile phones, set new literacy requirements. Little research exists on adults’ critical awareness of such promotional practices or on how better to support parental mediation of promotion to children (Kunkel & Wilcox, 2001); (Montgomery, 1996).

Media literacy therefore needs to be addressed not only towards children but adults as well. There are three main areas where media literacy can contribute. In a democratic society, a media-literate individual can take more informed decisions on matters concerning the public and political environment. Thus in a media-literate society an individual would be more aware, critical and proactive in the public sphere. In a market economy increasingly based on information, a media-literate individual would be innovative and competitive, and would be able to make positive choices. In today’s heavily mediated environment which informs and constructs the choices, values and knowledge that give meaning to everyday life, media literacy would facilitate an informed, creative and ethical society.


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