Discussing the influence of advertising

Financial skills

  • Analyzing ads
  • Distinguishing between wants and needs

Activity summary

For children ages 10 to 11

Advertising is everywhere. It comes in many different and inventive forms, which sometimes makes advertising difficult to recognize. Ads are created to persuade people to buy. In elementary school, children are not necessarily aware of the influence of advertising on their purchases. At the end of this activity, your child will have developed the ability to think critically about advertising and marketing strategies.

Advertising is a proven method of effectively circulating a promotional message. Because consumers—including children—are bombarded with ads in newspapers and on television, billboards, radio and public transportation, it's a good idea to start thinking critically about advertising early on.

Advertising states facts and makes questionable implications. Would you like to test your child's critical thinking skills the next time he or she comes in contact with advertising?

5 tips for broaching the subject with your child

  • Ads are masters at making us dream. The next time a surreal add featuring a bike that lets you fly to the moon, a bowl of cereal that transports you to an imaginary land or a video game console that takes over our lives is shown, ask your child if those results are really possible. Ask your child about the real effects of the product being promoted in the ad.
  • It not uncommon to see familiar faces in ads. Companies boost their persuasive powers by using cartoon characters and celebrities as spokespersons.
  • Some ads are more educational than others. To distinguish between those that focus a little too much on the “wow” factor and those that present information objectively, ask your child what he or she learned when the ad finishes.
  • Use the theory outlined in the Advertising Strategies document to answer your child's questions.
  • Watch the Advertising video as a family.

Advertising is intended to influence people’s lifestyle habits. If ads give consumers information about a product that interests them, they get 1 step closer to creating a need. However, when ads create desire for new goods or services—whether they focus on the discount or the exclusivity of the product step or make consumers dream—they might just be creating the impression that consumers need those goods.

Advertising stats1

  • Television profits amounted to nearly $5 billion in a year.
  • Of that revenue, advertising alone generated $2 billion in the same period.
  • 36% of television time is allocated to advertising.
  • Advertisers capitalize on 4 areas when advertising: the theme, the promise, the proof and the tone.
  • The 5 most-used advertising channels are the press, radio, television, billboard advertising and the web.

The Needs and Wants table can help your child distinguish between essentials and incidentals—that is, what is desired versus what is really needed. Developed initially to help children refine their holiday wish lists, the needs and wants table will also help your child understand that ads often present an idea to make consumers dream rather than to give objective information about goods or services.

Many children can be persuaded to overconsume in order to fit in or be “like everyone else.” As a result, they want the newest running shoes, the latest game console and so on. When this situation arises, it is important to discuss it with children so that they know what their real needs are in comparison with their wants.

3 tips for discussing needs and wants with your child

  • If your child wants an item because it’s “cooler” than the others in the store, help him or her think about the real reasons behind this want. For example, say “if you can give me 5 reasons why this item is better, I will consider buying it.”
  • If your child asks for a long list of popular items to be like his or her friends, help your child prioritize some of them. For example, say “Let's consider these items 1 at a time to see which ones you really need and which ones you want.”
  • If your child is never satisfied with what you buy, encourage your child to write down 1 thing each day that makes him or her happy instead of trying to reason with him or her. This activity may help children realize that they don't necessarily need to have trendy items to be happy.