A new study by Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and Stanford's School of Medicine has found that the more time children spend watching television or playing video games, the more likely it is that they will ask their parents to purchase the items they saw on the screen.
This study's relevance is reinforced by the increasing popularity of in-game dynamic advertisements, such as those provided by in-game advertising agency Massive, Inc. The study also found that the lingering effects of exposure to advertisements such as those found in video games and television can last for up to 20 months - though it is not clear that in-game ads are specifically targeting the young.
"It's called the 'nag factor,'" said Lisa Chamberlain, MD, MPH, Packard Children's researcher and clinical instructor at the medical school, "and it's very effective."
"We're proving what marketers have known for years," Chamberlain continued. "Kids have discretionary income of their own, and they also have a lot of influence of how their parents spend the family's money."
Chamberlain worked with Thomas Robinson, MD to compile the study, which surveyed more than 800 ethnically and socio-demographically diverse third-graders at 12 elementary schools in California. They asked children not only about their gaming habits, but also how much time they spent watching television or watching movies or videos. The children were also asked if they had during the previous week asked a parent to buy them any food, drinks and toys they had seen on the screen.
The children survey reported that on average they spent 12 hours playing video games, with another 10 spent watching television during a given week, which results in a lot of potential exposure to advertisements, provided the games being played offer the sorts of dynamic ads provided by companies such as Massive. The study found that, again on average, the children asked parents once each week for a toy, and two or three times a week for food or drink they saw advertised.
More than 300 of the children surveyed gave the same responses 7, 12 and 20 months after the initial assessment. The concern is, according to both Chamberlain and Robinson, is that kid-targeted advertising frequently promotes high-calorie, nutritionally poor choices. "Our result demonstrates that television and other screen media are true 'risk factors' for future requests for food and drinks," the researchers conclude, "regardless of a child's gender, ethnicity, economic standing or language."
"Kids are an easy target for advertisers," concluded Robinson. "Younger children aren't even able to understand that ads, which are now cropping up in video games and movies, online and even in cell phones, are intended to sell them things. Marketers need to be part of the solution for the obesity epidemic by helping parents, not making it harder for them."