Children’s letters to Father Christmas provide an opportunity to use naturalistic methods to investigate the influence of television advertising.
This study investigates the number of toy requests in the letters of children aged between 6 and 8 (n = 98) in relation to their television viewing and the frequency of product advertisements prior to Christmas. Seventy-six hours of children’s television were sampled, containing over 2,500 advertisements for toys.
Children’s viewing frequency, and a preference for viewing commercial channels, were both related to their requests for advertised goods. Gender effects were also found, with girls requesting more advertised products than boys.
Exploring the children’s explicit understanding of advertising showed that children in this age group are not wholly aware of the advertisers’ intent and that, together with their good recall of advertising, this may account for their vulnerability to its persuasive messages.