Think. Discuss. Act. Advertising

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Trends In TV Advertising

Minnich, C. (1988). Trends in TV Advertising. S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies.


(Download Trends in TV overview as a PDF)

In 1986, McDonald’s invested $329,000,000 in advertising, of which 98% went into TV advertising. Americans drank 9 billion gallons of soft drink in 1983; it is estimated that the consumers of half of those gallons were kids ages 18 and younger (Where the Biggest Brands Spend Their Ad Dollars. [1987, July/August]. Channels of Communication, p. 72). What difference does advertising really make? How do advertisers specifically target teenage consumers? What can be done to curtail the negative effects advertising may have on the values of teens?

Television advertising is defined as “the act of calling public attention to a product by way of purchasing time slots from the network, local or cable TV industry.” The purpose of TV is not to entertain-it is to make the networks richer via commercials. And it is working! (Logan, B. & Moody, K. [1979]. Television Awareness Training: The Viewer’s Guide for Family and Community. [pp. 43-51]. Abingdon Press.) One researcher defines the effects of advertising on youth as “changes in the youth’s thoughts and actions that occur because of his/her viewing of commercials in the media” (Moschis, G. [1982]. In Schwarz, M. [Ed.], TV & Teens: Experts Look at the Issues. [p. 208]. Addison Wesley).

Current Statistics and Trends

  • An average television-watching child sees 22,000 advertisements annually, about 60 per day. Researchers estimate that the average teenager views 23 hours of television each week, and he or she will see 250,000-300,000 advertisements by his or her 18th birthday (Logan and Moody, pp. 43-51).
  • Yearly expenditures on advertising have proliferated from the millions to the billions; in December 1986, thirty seconds of prime time cost $120,000 (Shorter Commercials to Clutter TV Screens. December 1986. USA Today Magazine, p. 9).
  • In 1985, $2 billion was spent on advertising research alone. Advertising agencies study American consumers carefully (Trachtenberg, J.A. [1987, March 23]. Beyond the Hidden Persuaders. Forbes, p. 135).
  • Breweries have recently spent larger proportions of their advertising budget on cable television spots, where teenagers comprise a large percentage of the audience (Where the Biggest Brands Spend Their Ad Dollars. [1987, July/August]. Channels of Communication, p. 72).

Principles, Ideology and Effects

  • Television advertisements for products geared toward adolescent consumption “tend to emphasize nonfunctional aspects of the product, such as social significance of the product, group conformity, and acceptance” (Moschis, p. 207). For example, many advertisements suggest, “Buy this and you will be the envy of your friends” or “In order to be cool, you need to buy this brand.” Advertisers recognize that the teenage peer group is a strong influence, so they exploit teenagers’ social needs with ads centered on humor, togetherness, and fun. Teens are fairly brand loyal, so marketers attempt to attract young consumers as well as older ones.
  • A woman’s worth is generally portrayed as directly proportional to how young and how beautiful she is; the cosmetic industry portrays women in constant need of alteration, improvement and disguise rather than concerned about their true identity or self (Moschis, pp. 212-213).
  • Both men and women are being portrayed as sexy (or at least striving to be) because sex still sells. Some companies feel the need to become more and more explicit with their ads because “consumers are bored” (Bruning, F. [1986, October 6]. Why Sizzle is Tastier Than Steak. MacLean’s, p. 13). Teens often hear the message, “Be sexy.” But now there is a new twist-recent ads for condoms are adding the phrase, “But be careful.” Due to the threat of AIDS, kids are hearing that condoms save lives. So does abstinence.
  • Teens spend billions annually on clothes, entertainment, and personal care products. Most advertisements present products in such a way as to inform the viewer about how to gain status, find pleasure and fulfillment, and solve problems.

Nearly all studies have found a correlation between the amount of advertising viewed by teens and the “undesirable consumer motivations of materialism and social motivations for consumption.” (Schwarz, p. 206)


  1. We need to confront the effects of advertising in our own lives. It is a subtle industry that will use any ploy to sell. We need to control it and not allow it to control us.
  2. Parents and youth leaders need to watch television with kids (prime time or MTV) and critique the advertisements together. Since kids are relatively new consumers, they should be asked questions such as, “Can this product really do that? What emotional need are they appealing to in that advertisement?” By raising adolescent consciousness of the potential persuasion power of advertising, kids can learn positive consumption habits.
  3. With the proliferation of sexually explicit advertising and the entrance of contraceptive ads on television, sex is portrayed as just another recreational activity. Sexuality needs to be discussed with kids. Kids should be taught the destructive results of casual sex as well as the tremendous rewards of a healthy sexual relationship within the context of marriage.

Cindy Minnich
© 2018 CYS

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