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Advertising responses are thoughts, emotions, and behaviors generated by exposure to commercial messages. Responses to advertising can be divided into cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses. Cognitive responses include recall or recognition of advertisements and brands, affective responses include likes and dislikes of advertisements and brands, and behavioral responses involve purchasing and consuming the advertised brands.
Advertising research has shown that the way consumers respond to persuasive information varies greatly across different stages of life (John 1999). In particular, children are more receptive to persuasive information than adults, because they have less experience with it. Compared to adults, children are less able to come up with critical thoughts and counterarguments while being exposed to advertising.
During childhood and adolescence, children develop various advertising-related competencies, which are known as “advertising literacy” (Rozendaal et al. 2011). Seven competencies have been identified: (1) distinguishing commercials from programs, (2) recognition of advertising’s source, (3) perception of the intended audience, (4) understanding advertising’s selling intent, (5) understanding advertising’s persuasive intent, (6) understanding of advertising tactics and appeals, (7) recognizing bias in advertising.
In addition to these conceptual advertising competencies, recent literature assumes that the development of advertising literacy is not only a matter of obtaining the necessary advertising knowledge, but also of acquiring the information-processing skills to apply that advertising knowledge while processing an advertisement. Due to the affect-based nature of contemporary advertising, in combination with children’s immature cognitive abilities, children primarily process advertising under conditions of low elaboration and, consequently, are unlikely to apply conceptual advertising knowledge as a defense (Buijzen, Van Reijmersdal, & Owen 2010). Therefore, current conceptualizations of advertising literacy include three dimensions: conceptual advertising literacy, including the seven competencies, advertising literacy performance, involving the actual use of conceptual advertising knowledge, and attitudinal advertising literacy, including low-effort affective mechanisms, functioning as a defense under conditions of low elaboration.
As yet, advertising research has predominantly focused on the development of conceptual advertising literacy. Although it is assumed that advertising literacy performance and attitudinal advertising literacy emerge later in the developmental sequence, it is unclear at what stage. Moreover, there is a lack of knowledge on the differential impact of the three dimensions on the cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses to advertising.
To gain full understanding of advertising responses across the life-span, future research should recognize the conceptual complexity of both advertising responses and advertising literacy.
- Buijzen, M., Van Reijmersdal, E. A., & Owen, L.H. (2010). Introducing the PCMC model: An investigative framework for young people’s processing of commercial media content. Communication Theory, 20, 427–450.
- John, D. R. (1999). Consumer socialization of children: A retrospective look at twenty-five years of research. Journal of Consumer Research, 26, 183–213.
- Rozendaal, E., Lapierre, M., Buijzen, M., & Van Reijmersdal, E. A. (2011). Reconsidering advertising literacy as a defense against advertising effects. Media Psychology, 14, 333–354.