New Study:
Two-Year Olds Branded
by TV Advertising
by David Burke

A new study shows that children as young as two years old easily recognise brand logos and that the amount of TV they watched determined how much branding they recognised.

The study, titled “Identifying determinants of young children’s brand awareness: Television, parents and peers” by Patti Valkenburg and Moniek Buijzen of the Amsterdam School of Communications Research and published in the journal Applied Developmental Psychology, examines brand recognition and recall in a younger age group than previous studies. Infants as young as two were able to recognise 8 out of 12 brands they were shown, and the more TV they had been exposed to, the more brands they recognised.

At a time when parents worry their children are growing up too fast, or with the wrong values, this research confirms the huge influence of television. Long before they can understand half of what their parents are saying to them, infants as young as two are being approached by advertisers and broadcasters. This report shows how close that relationship has become.

“The current generation of children has been recognised as the most brand conscious ever,” say the report’s authors. “Our study has clearly shown that exposure to television has consequences for the brand recognition of even the youngest children.”

They go on to mention specifically the TV programme that made it acceptable to target children this young.

“Whereas only one decade ago, kids marketers used to limit their efforts to children older than 6, recently they progressively recognise infants and toddlers as a vital and undeniable target group. This trend has accelerated even more since the worldwide success of the tremendously popular toddler program, the Teletubbies.”

Selling to children is nothing new. But selling to children who can't even speak is a recent innovation, with the Teletubbies alone earning the BBC millions. Advice to parents that they "be aware" of what their children watch or "speak to children about what they see" looks increasingly insufficient. Broadcasters and advertisers count on messages getting through to young viewers regardless of what parents know. And if a child hasn't learned to talk, there is little point discussing the finer points of consumerism and product placement.

Turn off the TV, however, and the flood of branding stops.

Since 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that children under the age of two should not watch television at all. The Academy advises that older children be limited to two hours a day. In Britain, a third of children under the age of four now have a TV set in their bedrooms. Programmes like the Fimbles and the Tweenies are marketed directly to them.

“This report shows that kids need protection,” says David Burke White Dot’s British Director “When advertisers talk about helping children with their consumer choices, and Anne Woods, who created the Teletubbies, talks about the research she does to find out what children like, we hope parents will see through their cynicism.”