Unplug Christmas? What do letters to Santa reveal?

https://readthespirit.com/ourvalues/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/2013/03/wpid-1213_Santa_Claus_Postbox_in_the_UK.jpgA Santa Postbox in the UK. Wikimedia Commons image.What do kids’ letters to Santa reveal … about advertising? Kids are bombarded this time of year with advertisements aimed directly at them, hoping to influence what they ask for as holiday gifts. Yesterday, we discussed the Nagging Nine: this season’s nine holiday toys most advertised directly to kids via the major children’s television programs. The list is compiled by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC). The number of ads directed at kids is staggering (check out yesterday’s post to see the statistics and the Nagging Nine list).

But, do these ads actually work? Do they influence what kids ask for? I think so, based on the confession I made yesterday, but I’m only one case. A more systematic analysis could look at what children ask for in their annual letters to Santa.

There haven’t been many recent studies of this sort, but one of the newest ones concerns kids in Great Britain and their letters to Father Christmas. Published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, this study examined television advertising and the products kids (aged 6 to 8) asked for in their letters.

Advertising to kids works. More exposure to television ads increased the proportion of advertised products that appeared in Father Christmas letters. Kids who preferred commercial television asked for more advertised products than kids did who preferred non-commercial television. Girls asked for more advertised products than boys did.

But advertising to kids isn’t an exact science. The researchers found a strong correlation between how much a product was advertised and how often kids asked for it, but a couple of heavily advertised products didn’t show up on Father Christmas missives at all.

Why does advertising to kids work? Young children often don’t see the profit-making purpose of ads. Kids are more likely to see ads as “information” than “persuasion.” When kids get a little older, they are better at recalling brand names, but they still lack the cognitive defenses adults have, making them even more vulnerable to direct advertisement campaigns. And, there’s always the nagging bit.

What’s on your kid’s letter to Santa—or Father Christmas?

Do you think kids are the target of too many ads?

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Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.

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