Topic outline

  • Introduction

    In their everyday lives, children encounter the most diverse forms of advertising, in magazines, on television, in supermarkets or in public transport. Children usually find advertising very exciting. The cuter, the more eye-catching and funnier advertising is, the sooner they become interested in it.

    Due to the children's natural curiosity, advertisers quickly get a foot in the children's door.

    Profit-oriented advertising aims to generate concrete buying interests and create consumer needs. It aims to attract attention to a specific company, brand, service or product and to encourage potential customers to make a purchase. Adapted to a certain target group, which is to be addressed, there is advertising in different orientations and forms.

    Children are also an important target group for economy, as their consumption wishes can influence parents' purchasing behaviour. Due to pocket money or gifts of money for holidays and birthdays, however, they already have their own purchasing power. On average, four to five-year-olds receive about 13 Euros a month if they receive pocket money in Germany. However, advertising is not aimed exclusively at children because of their current purchasing power, but also because of their future purchasing power. In order for them to consume certain products later in life as adults, children should already be tied to these brands and products at an early age.

    Preschool children cannot yet understand the intentions of advertising, as experience has shown that they do not yet understand how economy works. They also find it difficult to avoid the omnipresence of advertising and distinguish real content from advertising. The decisive factor for this is certainly that merchandising, in addition to conventional advertising, is becoming increasingly important and this marketing method is perceived by children as particularly appealing. The great range of merchandising that is on offer is making advertising and media characters increasingly common in our normal daily routine and so is for children.

    Relation of advertising and children


    Children belong to our consumer-oriented society and are therefore direct targets for advertising. Since children are exposed to advertising in their everyday life, it is important to help them develop a critical approach towards it. It could be effective if we practised with them identifying advertisements through formal attributes and referring to the intentions of advertisers.

    The reliable and routine identification of the various advertising features can only be achieved with a lot of practice and help from accompanying adults. In conversation with children, you can collect cross-media advertising examples. Printed pictures or drawings can serve as clues and help.

    Children between three and six years of age need guidance to develop a reflective and critical approach to advertising. In order to strengthen their media literacy, it is important to enable them to identify, understand and critically process advertising. This suggests a need for action at various levels. On the one hand, we need ECEC professionals who can help children develop a responsible and reflective approach to advertising (and other media content). On the other hand, consumer habits and the handling of advertising within the family are just as important as the role model function of the parents. On the way to becoming conscious, active and reflective media users, the personal experiences of the children themselves are also decisive. Using a playful approach, ECEC professionals may help to lay an important basis for the development of media literacy for children between the ages of three and six which can lead to their gradual sensitisation.

    Child's reflection on advertising in the media.


    Make children "advertising detectives". In small groups, they can browse through magazines and cut out advertisements. The clippings are then evaluated. Repeat the already known advertising characteristics again and again. Watching previously selected commercials together on television can also help consolidate the recognition of characteristics of advertising and create a reliable basis for distinction between advertisements and actual programmes.


    Comprehension Questions

    1. Why should ECEC professionals concentrate on the children’s critical thinking regarding advertisements in the media?

    2. What factors influence children’s reflection on advertising in the media?

  • About this Module

    When studying this course you will…

    • Get information about how to deal with the topic “advertising” in ECEC Centres
    • Understand why advertising is so exiting for children and how it appeals to them
    • Gain knowledge about different advertising forms and media
    • Be informed about legal framework conditions (i.e. "Rundfunkstaatsvertrag” (Interstate Broadcasting Treaty) or the “Jugendmedienschutz-Staatsvertrag” (Protection of children and youth in the Media)
    • Know how ECEC professionals can help children to develop a reflective approach to advertising

    In this module…

    • The influence of advertising on children of preschool age will be discussed
    • Practical advice will be given
    • Activities will support you to better understand the content and to prepare for the assessment
    • Further links will guide you to more information
  • Advertising and Young Children

    In our society today, children are an attractive target group for the advertising industry. But why are children interested in advertising messages? What design elements are there for children to focus their attention on and how does advertising influence them?

    Advertisement Addresses Core Needs

    When addressing children, advertising refers specifically to core needs. Such advertising promises include popularity, recognition, participation and the right to a say. Advertising plays an important role for the target group because childhood issues, developmental tasks and developmental psychological factors are fully integrated. In addition, advertising gives orientation to the children and it also provides information about the world. Children’s needs, which are triggered by advertising, support their own opinion-forming and decision-making. Children are given the opportunity to deal with what is important to them and learn how to make decisions.

    Advertisement Is Fascinating

    As with general media content, children are fascinated by advertising that relates to their life and takes their interests into account. In addition, children can easily understand commercials, as they are usually stringent in terms of content. This, in turn, is very effective in attracting their attention. In addition to forms, voices, music and colours, children are also impressed by the inventiveness of the advertisers and the element of humour they apply. Additionally, a very strong element is the music they use and it takes no time to sing along the advertising jingles. Thus, the advertised products become memorable.

    Advertising Uses Familiar Characters

    Children's attention is also drawn to advertising through the use of familiar characters. Advertisers use either characters which children already know from media areas, or they create special characters for the advertisements, which specifically address popular themes and interests of children. Familiarity with products and brands as well as trends within the age group can also affect children's attention. Their interest in advertising increases when they can recognise labels or brand names.

    Sometimes a change of perspective helps. Encourage children to think up a small advertising spot for a certain product and to realise it. This way, children develop better understanding of the intentions of advertising and the goals the advertisers pursue in their work. Afterwards you can think together with the children why advertisements do not always deliver what they promise. This way, a critical examination of advertising can be improved and the goals of advertising can be better understood.

    The frequent repetition of advertising and the marketing of products via several media channels lead to quick memorisation of slogans and brand names. This, in turn, can influence children's own understanding of the brand or their decision to buy (or indirectly the decision of their parents). In particular, a promoted product awakens consumer wishes and is considered in a positive way if its advertisement is perceived positively. If an advertisement message promises positive product features, then children believe these promises.

    Children do not question the credibility of advertising. Only through their own positive or negative experiences can they gradually differentiate their perception of advertising promises.

    Watch a selected food commercial with the children, e.g. for a yoghurt, and collect impressions and messages. The children can then become food testers and analyse the product in terms of taste and appearance. In a group, compare previously expressed ideas about the product with the actual "test results". This way, children can recognise differences and similarities between the advertising promise and the real product.

    Download: Template Food Testers


    Children's natural curiosity, openness and thirst for knowledge make it easy for the advertising industry to arouse their interest and be noticed. Younger children find it difficult to clearly distinguish and understand the information provided. Advertising appeals can therefore easily reach their target group.

    Children can also sometimes develop a critical and negative attitude towards advertising. This happens, for example, when they feel strongly disturbed by advertising when using the media.

    Consumer habits and basic values in the family also have a significant impact on the extent to which children are influenced by advertising in terms of their desires and needs. Ultimately, parents show their children how they themselves deal with consumer wishes and advertising and are responsible for their family's purchasing decisions.


    Comprehension Questions

    1. Why are children interested in advertising?

    2. What needs of the children do companies address when they design advertisements for this target group?

    3. What features used in the media make advertised products memorable?

    4. How can you help children at ECEC to evaluate advertised products and make decisions about which product to buy?

  • Advertising Media and Forms

    Brand and product advertising uses a wide variety of media, such as newspapers, radio, television or websites to create needs and trigger interest. Here one can describe a few essential similarities of the advertising forms, but also differences.

    Essential Objectives of Advertising in all Areas are the Same

    Advertising should convey a positive image, generate needs and desires, inspire people to buy, increase turnover and awareness and arouse interest in a brand, product or service. Advertising messages aim at a specific target group, which is generally very well known to advertisers. This knowledge about a target group, about their life situation, desires, values, attitudes or about their financial possibilities, is based on long-term and precise observations and surveys. In order to achieve the desired effect and satisfy the specific target groups, marketing often uses findings from semiotics, colour and design theory, communication science and psychology. This way, advertising concepts can be geared precisely to the respective goals and the desired target group, the brand and the product as well as the medium and the available space.

    Advertising on television, radio, the Internet and apps tries to intensify its messages by means of frequent repetitions and permanent presence. This high frequency is intended to help the target group better internalise the messages. This can, however, create a great deal of pressure, especially on younger children as it is difficult for them to escape the frequent and recurring advertising messages. In addition, this can be very frustrating for children since the children's awakened consumer wishes usually remain unfulfilled.

    Keeping children completely away from advertising is not a solution. It is more important to pre-select appropriate media content for the children, to accompany them when they use media and to start strengthening their media literacy at an early stage in the domain of advertising as well.

    In order to reduce the advertising pressure, it can help to talk with children about their experiences with advertising. Emotional aspects such as desires, frustration or feelings of being disturbed can be addressed in order to support the processing of advertising impressions. As an introduction to conversation it is a good idea to playfully document with the children how often they are disturbed by advertising during certain media use. The group can, for example, listen to the radio together and place a sticker on a timeline at each advertising interruption. With the help of the timeline, the duration of use and all advertising interruptions are visualised and it stimulates the discussion of the topic of advertising

    Number of advertisement interruptions:

    Timeline of advertisements during a radio programme


    Print and Poster Advertising

    Advertising messages in print media are usually conveyed using impressive combinations of images and text, exciting image sections and graphic incentives. Advertising differs from editorial content by using different fonts or eye-catching colours. It is also marked with the word "advertising" or "ad". The visible placement of the company or product logo is also important, as the advertisement should also be noticed when leafing through a print medium. The product images and logos can be noticed by young children as a distinguishing feature for advertising. Since magazines and periodicals often contain entire pages of advertising or very large advertisements, which hardly differ from the editorial content, it is especially difficult for younger children to associate the ad pages with advertising. Even young children are familiar with viewing visual content because they observe their parents using print media and even using children's magazines and books. Even though children between the ages of three and six usually cannot (correctly) read, picture messages do reach them here.

    Radio Advertising

    Adults often use the radio as an accompanying medium, e.g. at breakfast or in the car, which is consumed incidentally and unconsciously. Radio advertising must therefore be identified by a clearly audible signal. In addition, the commercials themselves are also clearly highlighted in order to be heard by the listener. Therefore, advertising on the radio often uses distinct features such as catchy jingles, haunting voices, repetitions or funny puns. These design elements allow children to easily recognise advertising on the radio. Radio advertising has a high recognition effect and children are animated to speak and sing along due to the constant repetitions. Radio commercial spots are usually quite short and thus help to attract the attention of children. Therefore, the auditory advertising messages can also very quickly become firmly established in the memory of children (but also of adults). Consumer buying decisions and choice of brand can thus be strongly influenced.

    Television Advertising

    Television advertising attracts the attention of young children with colourful pictures, funny or captivating music and short stories. In addition, it often uses language that is characterised by rhymes, short sentences and other linguistic embellishments. This makes advertising messages for children more interesting and easier to understand according to their language development. Private television stations use advertising for children specifically in the context of their children's programme. The advertising clips are placed in the appropriate place in the programme and summarised according to topic, as is the case with the adult target group. For example, before and after an animal show product advertisements are faded in to specifically appeal to children's spirit of research. Advertising for dolls is more likely to be played in the programme environment of "Programmes for Girls". On television, however, children can also see commercials targeting adults. In some cases, these clips can impair the development of children, which is why they may not be broadcast in the daytime programming. Studies relating to television show that children between the ages of three and six cannot distinguish between advertising and programme content.

    Only children aged seven and over know that advertising wants to sell something. From the age of eleven, children begin to consider advertising to be increasingly untrustworthy. For television advertising to be reliably distinguishable from actual programmes, one needs comprehensive understanding of advertising, which preschool children do not normally have.

    However, by means of a few simple formal features, children can also easily identify advertising on television. Helpful signs of identification for children can be, for example:

    • the audiovisual bumpers at the beginning and end of the advertising segment,
    • names of products and brands
    • and the missing channel logo, which is not displayed during the commercial break.

    Online Advertising

    Online media always offer new forms of advertising that make use of a wide variety of technical possibilities. On websites, for example, one will find advertising banners that, in addition to the familiar features of print advertising, also use colour effects, sounds or changing content. On social networks, advertising is usually displayed in a personalised form between the postings or at the edge of the page, while audiovisual advertising clips are inserted upstream and downstream in videos. Since certain forms of advertising are deliberately designed so that they are not immediately recognised as advertisements, it is sometimes difficult for adults to distinguish clearly between content and advertising. Therefore, it is difficult to identify clear and unambiguous characteristics of online advertising. There are only a few characteristics that children can look for. These include, for example:

    • price indications,
    • illustrations of products and brands,
    • purchase requests and labels with the terms "advertisement" or "advertising".

    Online advertising is often perceived by children as annoying and overwhelming. For example, they find it difficult to click away large advertising windows covering the actual webpage without help. In addition, there is an increased risk online that children will come across advertisements with inappropriate content. One should always ensure that children only visit recognised websites for children, even if they are accompanied by adults. In the case of online programmes for children, it is therefore a special quality feature if these offers are advertising-free. In this way children can be protected from possible excessive demands.

    Quiz - Different Forms of Online-Advertisement

    Further reading: The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth and the State Media Authority for North Rhine-Westphalia have published a brochure with numerous other tips on online advertising.

    Advertising in Apps

    In free apps one can often find advertisements in the form of faded-in pictures, as recorded videos or as small advertising banners. The full paid versions are usually without advertising. A separate form of advertising in apps are the so-called "in-app purchases" or "in-app items". This means that, for example, in a free game app, additional materials can be purchased to help the player reach the goal of the game faster. While big advertisements in apps such as banners, videos or pop-ups can usually be identified by differences in appearance and content, corresponding purchase recommendations for in-app items can usually only be identified by careful reading of the message and are therefore often not clearly perceived as advertising by children. When selecting apps for children, care should also be taken to ensure that they are free of advertising. Children usually find the interruption caused by advertising windows annoying, e.g. during a game. More serious, however, are the risks associated with app advertising. On the one hand, children could acquire and pay for digital offers without realising and without their parents' consent. On the other hand, there is the danger that advertising may present unsuitable topics.


    Comprehension Questions

    1. Can you name some common essential objectives of different advertising forms?

    2. What features does television advertising use to attract the attention of young children?

    3. Is it a solution to completely keep children away from media advertising? Why? / Why not?

    4. At ECEC how can you reduce advertising pressure on children?

    Interactive Content: 1
  • Legal Framework

    “Rundfunkstaatsvertrag” (Interstate Broadcasting Treaty)

    A uniform basis for private and public broadcasting in Germany is created by the "Rundfunkstaatsvertrag Länder". The central provisions on advertising can be found in paragraphs 1, 7a, 8, 8a and 45. Advertising in Germany must not involve or promote discrimination, it must not promote behaviour that endangers health, safety or the environment, it must not harm or mislead the interests of consumers and it must not violate human dignity. 

    The predominantly fee-financed public broadcasters ARD and ZDF are not allowed to show more than 20 minutes of advertising per working day per channel on an annual average and after 8 p.m. not at all. This restriction does not apply to private television stations such as ProSieben or RTL. They finance themselves mainly through advertising revenues. Both public and private television stations are allowed to broadcast a maximum of twelve minutes of advertising per hour. 

    In addition, the "Rundfunkstaatsvertrag" stipulates that advertising as such must be clearly distinguishable from editorial content and easily recognisable. This is implemented in practice, for example, by acoustic and optical indicators before and after an advertising interruption. From a legal point of view, individual advertising clips outside an ad segment may only be broadcast in exceptional cases.

    According to the law, there is a higher level of protection with regard to advertising for children. For example:

    • television programmes for children may not be interrupted by advertising.
    • Advertising is only permitted after a programme and before the next programme begins. 
    • Above all, the demand for a clear separation between programmes and advertising is of great importance for children under the age of six.

    The skill to differentiate between these two areas can be developed with the help of media pedagogical work in ECEC centres.

    Jugendmedienschutz-Staatsvertrag - JMStV (State Treaty on the Protection of Children and youth in the Media)

    Article 6 of the JMStV contains guidelines on the protection of children and youth in the field of television and online advertising. In principle, advertising may not impair children and adolescents either mentally or physically. According to the JMStV, advertising is not allowed to directly invite children and youth to rent or buy goods or services that exploit their credulity and inexperience. Furthermore, advertising must not directly encourage children and adolescents to persuade their parents or third parties to purchase the advertised product. It must not exploit the special trust which children and adolescents have in parents, ECEC professionals or other persons they trust and it must not show children and youth in dangerous situations without good reason. Advertisements must also be broadcast separately from editorial content for children and young people if they refer to potentially harmful products. Alcoholic beverages may also not be advertised with an affinity for children and adolescents.

    Der Deutsche Werberat (The German Advertising Council)

    As a non-governmental self-regulatory body of the advertising industry, the "German Advertising Council" has existed in Germany since 1972. Its task is to ensure that legally permitted advertising does not cross any ethical boundaries. Its goals include the promotion of responsible action and the elimination of grievances within the advertising industry. Citizens can themselves point out representations and contents that are perceived as inappropriate and submit complaints to the Advertising Council. In addition, the "German Advertising Council" has its own rules of conduct in addition to the statutory regulations. It becomes active when advertising that is perceived as inappropriate is not legally permissible. If the Advertising Council decides in favour of the complaint submitted after the test procedure, the advertising company is requested to change or discontinue their advertising. If the company does not comply, the "German Advertising Council" may issue a public reprimand.

    Today, the omnipresence and diversity of media presents the protection of children and youth from harmful media with difficult tasks. On the one hand, it is increasingly difficult to use reliable control mechanisms (e.g. time limits) or technical measures due to the large number of media and the confusing, cross-border, mostly electronic distribution channels. On the other hand, protective measures are becoming indispensable due to increasing content relevant to the protection of children and youth. For this reason, it is essential to accompany the children, especially young children, when they use media.

  • Support Parents

    Advertising accompanies children in their everyday lives and should therefore be addressed by both ECEC professionals and parents in an effective cooperation. Parents may be uncertain about the topic of advertising and have questions about it, which they address to the ECEC professionals. If parents are given insights into the media education work on the topic in ECEC centres and into the child's perception of advertising as well as tips on information offers, this can be very helpful for the parents and is bound to strengthen their educational partnership.

    An important piece of information for parents is above all that the topic of advertising in the family is primarily relevant when visiting a toy shop or buying groceries in the supermarket, since children can express clear preferences for certain products very early on. However, it is often difficult for them to explain why they prefer this particular pudding or toy. Parents can also encounter their children's consumption wishes that they do not want to fulfil or that they do not understand. That the children have enthusiasm for this or that product due to advertising, however, is clear to many parents.

    If the topic of advertising is taken up in ECEC centres, many parents will be in favour of it. In addition, the parents themselves can provide important approaches for the media pedagogical work on the topic. It is important to teach parents how the topic is dealt with in ECEC centres and to offer them the opportunity to talk.


    Comprehension Questions

    1. Why should media advertising be addressed by both ECEC professionals and parents?

    2. What is reflected in the children’s preferences for certain products when they are out shopping with their parents?