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When I Grow Up: an Analytical Study of the Interpretations of Children on Pop Culture Elements Found in Selected Tv Commercials

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When I Grow Up:
An Analytical Study of the Interpretations of Children on Pop Culture Elements found in Selected TV Commercials “TV takes our children across the globe before parents give them permission to cross the streets.”
- Joshua Meyrowitz

BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY Advertising is a form of mass communication strategy created to promote the purchase of a certain product, message, or service in the market. It carries the messages that come to you from the people who pay for the media (Biagi, 2001, p. 227). It is also an act of popularizing something through mass media to attract the attention of the consumers, audiences, or mainly the public for higher sales and marketability. Tracing through the history, evidences of advertising is said to have started thousands of years before when people started trading things for survival. Thus, the rise of technology, industrialization, and capitalism triggered the success of advertising in the heightening state of competition worldwide and in every aspect; from commodities, to people and politics. The industrial revolution, according to some historians, is the root of commercial advertising (Campbell, 2002, p. 387). Because of the continuous occurrence of new products in the market and there is a need to sell them off instantly, businessmen tried the concept of large scale advertising to sell more. Over the time, manufacturers realized that if their products were distinctive and became associated with quality, customers would remember their name. Because of this, manufacturers can now dictate the prices without worrying about being unsold. And at the end, manufacturers began to use advertising to establish identity and separate themselves from the competitors. But when consumers began demanding certain products – either because of quality or advertising, manufacturers seized control of pricing. With ads creating and maintaining brand-name recognition, retail stores had to stock the desired brands.

Until now, commercial interests recognize the impact of images to “shock” viewers, obtain free publicity about controversial ad campaigns, and generate sales (Lester, 1995, p. 76). On the positive light, Campbell (2002) noted that:

“…advertising contributed major social changes in the twentieth century. First, it significantly influenced the transition from a producer-directed to a consumer-driven society. By stimulating demand for new products, advertising helped manufacturers to create new markets and recover product start-up costs quickly. Second, advertising promoted technological advances by showing how new machines… could improve daily life. And third, advertising encouraged economic growth by increasing sales.” But then, after the Great Depression and World War II, Campbell said that television dramatically altered advertising. Criticisms of ads grew as the industry appeared to be “dictating” American values as well as driving the economy. Critics discovered that some agencies use “subliminal advertising”. They are strategies of advertising that has “hidden or disguised” messages that allegedly register on the subconscious of people in buying products.
And as Lester (1995) said, advertising compels people to buy what they do not need, makes people inferior by showing what they cannot afford or look like, makes people throw out perfectly useful products after they become “out-of-date”, and contributes to a materialistic society that drives the price of consumer good higher to pay for all advertisements (p. 82).

In the Philippines
Since the first telecast of television in 1953, advertising in TV was no more alien to the Filipino consumers. Lux commercials featuring the “beauty” of women is depicted to the audience in 1967. Advertising too in the country was used by politicians like Elpidio Quirino during the national elections in 1953 (pinoytv.blogspot.com, accessed Jan. 12, 2009).
In 1960, the Philippine Association of National Advertisers acknowledged television as one of the most effective and potent media for advertising. In fact, it was only in the 60s that television commercials came into use. The first television advertising contract in the country was signed for Tawag ng Tanghalan, handled by J. Walter Thompson for Procter and Gamble. As the television industry matured, lines were more firmly drawn between advertisers and network owners. Programmers now had to prove to advertisers that the station-produced programs were being watched (pinoytv.blogspot.com, accessed Jan. 12, 2009).
Until the age of the Karen Po Mc Donald’s commercial during the 90’s and the “Beautiful” statement of Marian Rivera for Nesvita, advertising in the country has surely become an avenue for product or service popularization.

A “new” culture The mass media has polarized the literature of the people from “high culture” and “low culture”. Campbell (2002) said that the ones who are labeled to be included in the “high culture” are the art of ballet the symphony, art museums, classical literature and the like. Meanwhile, “low cuture”, refers to soap opera, rock music, comic books, and the like. Low and “popular” culture has become has aligned to the taste and flavor of the “masses” who enjoy the commercials of this types by the mass media (p. 17). Meaning to say, what is popular or “pop” or popular are often liked by majority of the masses. And in the game of television, to be liked by the majority of the people makes you remain in the business. Popular culture has influenced the people from different age brackets - from fashion to music, from lifestyle to stereotypes. But adolescents to adult people are more likely to screen what they see on mass media: whether they will be influenced by it and apply that to real life or just ignore the prevailing craze (Shaffer, 1999). Before childrenturn into adolescents, they can be exposed to different extrafamilial influences that may affect their concept of ideology as they grow up. Children as they mature increasingly become familiar of the outside world and spend much less tie under the eyes of their parents (p 598). Screening thoroughly what they watch might be difficult at that age bracket. Advertisements, may it be in radio, print or TV, are used to promote and as well popularize their products which will become the latest trend, or will embody the pop culture present in the society. Although advertisers have specific target markets, they would not be able to control “other” age brackets that would be listening/viewing the commercials. Therefore, advertisers may take into consideration that these commercial can be exposed to children who in time might be influenced by the elements that advertisers used. The main focus of the study are the views of the children regarding popular culture elements from current commercials like Bambini, Colt 45, and Nestle Ice Cream which may influence the behavior of the children. The rationale of choosing these advertisements is based on the fast-paced, catchiness and popularity of the ads for according to Shaffer (1999), children are more likely to be captivated through the animated special effects of the programs. Colt 45, a brand of an alcoholic drink, exaggerated the use of a beer bottle that falls to men who they think is not “man enough”. “Real Beer, for Real Men” is the product’s tagline. Bambini, on the other hand, uses female teenagers who spells out their crushes using the Bambini lotion. The transition, the background music used, and the intriguing giggles of the girl talents make this catchier to the children. Selecta Ice Cream, with the Legaspi family as endorsers, shows how Zoren was incapable of doing tasks commonly done by mothers. Her daughter narrates how his dad does the said chores erroneously. Furthermore, these commercials are good examples of implied popularized trends in clothing, behavior, and portrayal regarding gender roles. The researchers would like to see the view of children, ages 7 – 10, regarding the popular culture elements found in the said advertisements.

GENERAL STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM How does popular culture, as presented by the selected TV commercials, influence the children from ages seven to ten years old in their views of reality and perception of society?

SPECIFIC STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM 1. What are the qualities of these pop culture elements specifically on gender stereotypes and portrayals? 2. What are the meanings conveyed by the commercials perceived by the children? 3. How do these commercials influence the children’s views and interpretations on reality? 4. How do these children relate themselves to the portrayal of pop culture within the commercial? 5. What are the similarities/differences of the interpretations of the children from the public to children from the private elementary school? (And vice versa)

GENERAL OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY This research aims to analyze how popular culture, as presented by the selected TV commercials, influence the children from ages seven to ten years old in their views of reality and perception of society?

SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
At the end of the study, the researchers will be able to: 1. Find out the qualities of these pop culture elements specifically on gender stereotypes and portrayals. 2. Understand the perception or the meaning that the children retain in viewing the commercials. 3. Determine how these commercials influence the children’s view and interpretations of reality. 4. Understand how these children relate themselves to the “reality” that these commercials convey. 5. Identify the similarities or differences of the interpretations of the children from the public school to children from the private elementary school.

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY (refer to capsule) Commercials are aired during breaks of a certain show whether on the television or on the radio. They were said to be the life of the station because they sustain the high cost production through sponsorships and investments. The products and the station complement the needs of each other in the world of business wherein one promotes the product while the other funds the production of the show. In this modern world where watching television is already a necessity, the viewers can never avoid or censor everything that is aired, according to their target audience, because it is widely broadcasted and everyone who has the gadget to receive the appropriate signal could watch the aired program regardless of the age. However, all of these always have a direct and/or indirect effect on the viewer. These broadcasting powers are most likely responsible for the rise of the current trends, stereotypes, and what we call the popular culture. In choosing the show to watch, the viewers often overlook the impact of the commercial that are being aired every after the show without realizing that it may also affect their views no matter how short the commercial was. This study can provide a better understanding of how small things such as television commercials affect a child’s view on culture, gender role, and standards at a very young age. It is very important to identify the pop culture views available in TV commercials because culture can be learned through mass media. Children are easy learners, and not having the capacity to sort out the pop culture shown in mass media could make them vulnerable of acquiring them and applying them unconsciously in the future. In addition, the study would also maximize the potential of Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. When he introduced the SLT, it focuses merely on the implications of violence and media to an individual’s cognition. From this study, the theory could be stretched out and thus become applicable to the influences of popular culture to a certain bracket of TV audience – and in this case, the children.
SCOPE AND DELIMITATION This study will focus primarily on selected TV commercials that present many elements of pop culture especially gender portrayals and its effect on the cultural views of the children from seven to ten years old. These commercials are namely Colt 45, Bambini, and Selecta Ice Cream. The research will also be conducted within the period of six months including the analysis. Furthermore, the pop cultural aspect will concentrate on gender portrayals through clothing and other factors. The sample population, on the other hand, will be from a randomly selected public elementary school in Baguio City. This is to ensure that these children have been exposed to the mass culture presented by the media. In case none of the schools approved our request to conduct a study in their institution, invitation or recruitment of participants shall be used instead.

DEFINITION OF TERMS
1.) Extrafamilial Influences – are external forces that influence the child’s behavior as it grow up. Examples are: television, computers, and people in their school.
2.) Industrial Revolution – is the transition of a state from feudalism, agricultural oppression or the landlord-tenant relationship, to capitalism or the rise of labor and production.
3.) High Culture – refers to the forms of art and literature dubbed as “with class”. Examples are: ballet, Shakespearean art, classical novel and music, etc.
4.) Low Culture – refers to the forms of art and literature supported by the masses. Examples are: rock and rap music, soap operas, radio talk, etc.
5.) Pop Culture – is the prevailing or hit forms of culture in the current generation. It includes the trend and stereotypes in a culture at a given time.
6.) Shock Advertising – a strategy used by advertisers that has images that are emotionally powerful to sell their products and generate publicity.
7.) Subliminal Advertising – coined in 1950’s, this term refers to sensual hidden messages found in advertisements that register thoughts, “other” the product they are promoting.

RELATED STUDIES For the study’s related literature, the researchers focused primarily on the following aspects: popular culture, advertising and television, and children development.

Popular Culture The people are now living in the age of popular culture. It is what we eat, what we watch, what we smell, hear, and wear: it embodies the world we live in and influences our emotions, way of thinking and even our very lives. It gives us a view of the world and how we see ourselves as a person. Popular culture is very powerful. It has the capacity to make people accept the reality imposed by the dominating class. What we think as popular has an origin- it did not come from everyone, it is being owned by the dominating system, particularly on business and the state because it is capable of gaining profit. Furthermore, because the dominating class also has the access to all the modes of communication, through media and arts, they can disseminate these information to a wide range of audiences (Tolentino, 2001). From time to time, culture has evolved due to several influences and modernization. These changes gave way to the growth of subcultures which as time goes by, where popularized and therefore became an example of the popular culture. Cynthia Fuchs talked about the rise of the subcultures such as the queers, and the punks and the reaction of the audiences towards them in a live band performance. Consider the example that she used to analyze the reaction of the audiences when the singer of the Tribe 8 band Lynn Breedlove took her shirt off in front of the audiences which they, the audience, imitated to show their empathy or to identify with the singer. Another example that she sighted was when the singer started to put her hands down into her jeans and simulated a masturbating act wherein the audience did not exactly imitated the act, however, they reacted enthusiastically to the said exhibition (Fuchs, 1998). In application to this research, the identification or the evidence of imitated behavior between the audience and the singer is parallel to the motivation of the children to imitate the behavior of the actor/model of a commercial. The other example that Fuchs sighted is similar to the possibility of children acquiring the behavior they see in the indirectly. To explain further, Fuchs (1998) quoted Angella McRobbie: “…subcultural life combines commercial, aesthetic, and identificatory experiences, and these experiences, even if they aren’t overtly ‘resistant,’ provide young people in youth cultures with a way of achieving social subjectivity and therefore identity.”

If the so called youth culture who already has the ability to think and review their actions imitated what they saw, what more for the children who in their early stage are said to be similar to a sponge that absorb and learn from what they see in their environment?

Advertising and Television Children are being exposed to large number of commercials every second. The most common, and widespread means of advertising happens within our television sets through the commercials aired repetitively everyday. Aside from the programming available in all televisions, the concern is with the advertising contained in children’s program. These facts have always been like this for the past 25 years. Despite all the criticism thrown to such reality, advertising will continually work this way as long as free enterprise exist (Schneider, 1987). Advertising is a business. It promotes the salability of a certain product, service, or even a person in every creative way it can provide to capture the attention of the consumers.
Kauffman (2001) said that: “The immediate goal of advertising [is to] tug at our psychological shirt sleeves and slow us down long enough for a word or two about whatever is being sold.” Professor Herbert Krugman said that within 30 seconds of turning on the television, our brain becomes neurologically unable to make clear judgments of what we perceive. Within these 30 seconds, all the messages we receive enters our brain without selection, which means, we become vulnerable to the information fed by the media (Sigma, 2005). A British research to show the perception of an individual of another individual’s involvement in media is higher than what the observer sees to his/herself. The research entitled “Write about others, wrong about ourselves?” showed the inability of a person to accept the fact that he/she could be influenced by others is evident. People stand in the realm of denial. This denial would rather ridicule the fact that advertisers are spending millions of money for advertising a product without having an effect to the consumer or the viewer. (ibid.p95) If advertising is made to influence people, and it is still being practiced until now, evident through these advertisements, it only show that it is effective and it could really influence the way of thinking of the public.

Children, Development and Cognition Age is the measurement of humans for development – there is a distinct change in structure, thought or behavior of an individual that comes about from biological and environmental influences (Bentzen, 1997). Although time and developmental change are related, this relationship is not perfect. It means to say that we cannot predict exactly the change that will occur to an individual according to his/her exact age.

Right from the moment a baby was born, s/he is already responsive to stimulation. Often times it replies through a sustained or prolonged crying. Facial grimaces, flushing of the face, and closed eyes accompany this behavior. This may caused by both external and internal occurrences like hunger, hurt, or even being alone. This behavior, according to Goon (2001), will continue to arise in the infant stage but more sensitive and maximized use of its senses. Through conditioning, a child will soon develop cognition and his/her ability to notice things. Example of which is if he/she is not being carried, the baby might feel alone (p.205). Through lifting him/her away from the crib, the baby will be conditioned that someone is accompanying him/her.

Cognition as a young child, two to four year old will develop gradually. Motor skills will also be learned during this age and is more exposed to visual stimulation (Bentze, 1997, p. 227). Solitary plays and activities of a young child will be more likely to occur here. Solitary activities means the child is more focused exclusively on his own leisure. “Motion” and colorful stuff will begin to attract the child and soon be imitating the objects that s/he sees: may it be a person or an object (p. 247).

Ages five and six are the school year, children has the ability to classify, manipulation, and causation. Even when watching Sesame Street, for example, children under this age could be choosing what segments to watch and not to watch.

And finally, the stage before adolescence, seven to eight, somehow masters his first language, identifies currencies, tells time, enjoys reading, and watching television – all without supervision. S/he then also realizes what color he likes best and be able to understand the principles of possession and the basic ideas of cause and effect. (Bentzen, 1997, p.315).

Children by this age acquire new behaviors and automatically modify the old ones as they encounter in the social and physical world. Miller (1991), using the modern social learning theory, states that children being exposed to different types of influences will eventually cause them to act aggressively, share, play with peers, learn sex-typed behaviors, and develop independence. Much of the socialization of children involves the shaping of behaviors directed toward other people.

As children grow older they will learn to distinguish everything that they come across with. This process, called social cognition, is the mental understanding of the social world and one’s place in it. Television, computers, and schools that contribute to their social cognition are called Extrafamilial Influences (Shaffer, 1999) By the age of seven or eight too, the “typical” child is on, or has progressed significantly toward, the period of concrete mental operations. This includes the ability to understand the general rules that underlie or lead to specific outcomes (idea of cause and effect), can transfer learning (rules and principles) gained from solving concrete problems to solving problems in real life, are not fooled by perceptions or what appears to be true but relies on what they know to be true (Bentzen, 1997). Although this shows that kids seven above has the capacity to sort out which are fallacies or not, this still depends on how strong the influences are to the way of thinking of the kids.

Sex difference, in children, is also a deal in this age bracket. A gender-role standard is a value, a motive, or a class of behavior that is considered more appropriate of members of one sex than the other. Taken together, a society’s gender-role standard describes how males and females are expected to behave and reflect the stereotypes by which we respond to members of each sex (Shaffer, 1999, p.474).

Even though the ideas of children by this time came from various influences, definitely, they have their own system of thinking.

Children and Television
According to Shaffer (1999), television literacy refers to one’s ability to understand how information is conveyed through that medium. This involves the ability to process the context or setting of a particular program, construct a story line from characters’ activities and sequence what happened.

Prior to age 8-9, children process the contents of the program in a piecemeal fashion which means that they are fascinated with fast-paced activities, loud music, children-like voices and etc. (ibid.) Commonly, children ages 7 below are most likely to be attracted to what they see visually and neglect what the program says. They do not distinguish the persuasive messages of commercials from those programs (Singer, 1983). Comprehension of what they see in TV increases sharply from middle childhood to adolescence.

But according to a study made by Liebert and Sprafkin in 1988 (Shaffer, 1999, p. 601), children, three to five years old, has the ability to apply what they see on TV. They have conducted 950 children in the age bracket, who watch Sesame Street, an educational show fro toddlers. The group was divided into two: those who rarely watch the program, and those who watch it regularly. Tests on alphabets and writing showed that those who watch Sesame Street avidly were able to get higher scores.

This means that children, as soon as they can recognize and observe things and as well watch television, it is most likely that they will apply what they did to other activities that they will do.

Television can greatly affect the behavior of gwoing children – may it be in terms of food, fashion, buying behavior, desires, and even their whole childhood construction.

The American Psychological Association tested children who can comprehend to televised advertising messages and are prone to accept advertiser messages as truthful, accurate and unbiased. The result showed that because of their consistent exposure of children to these advertisements they became led to unhealthy eating habits (APA Task Force, 2000, http://apa.org, accessed December 30, 2008).

On the other side, the commercials’ and advertisements’ purpose is to attract attention, arouse interest, stimulate desire, create an opinion, and move the viewer to buy the product (Lester, 1995, p. 80). Supposedly, it is only meant for their target market but then, we can’t deny the fact that many of these advertisements are already exposed to children.

Mass media can, indeed, control the minds of its viewers. Amd Walls’ article entitled “CHILDREN: Media's Message Can Fool Kids” w/c focused more on self-identity and concepts of reality of the children stated that since mass communications is one-way there is now way for them to check meanings and confirm assumptions (medialit.org, accessed: Dec. 28, 2008).

Another concrete example: students Blum-Kulka, Kampf, and Huck-Taglicht (2005) studied the analysis of the children they interviewed allows them to identify the narrative resources and the cultural setting in which the children’s stories are constructed, providing a better understanding of the ways in which they use these resources for meaning making. Their findings suggest that television is quite a major source for the co-construction of conversational narratives, and that with age, the identity of protagonists’ shifts from the fictional to the human. (Ebscohost; accessed December 28:, 2008) Like what we have mentioned a while back, television advertisements can cause changes in the children’s desire. An example of which is their desire for toys. James (2002, ebscohost.com) found out that that TV creates desires for toys among small children. The data he found also demonstrated that while the impact of TV ads “may” not affect all children directly, informal communication between children creates needs in an indirect manner. The children who “bragged” about their toys, knew about the latest product or toy came from the ads presented in television.

One of the reasons why television’s influence on children is studied so carefully is not only that children watch a lot of TV, but also that they are vulnerable to these messages especially to its commercials (Singer, 1999.).

Children and Perception

By its basic definition, Perception is the process by which people categorize and interpret the stimulus that we received (Goon, 2001, glossary). We have discussed a while back the developmental stages a child goes through as he ages. Now we know that as humans grow older and perception develops.

Over the preschool and early grade-school years, children learn more and more about toys, activities, and achievements domains considered appropriate for boys and girls. Eventually, grade-school children draw sharp distinctions between the sexes on psychological dimensions. (Shaffer, 1999, p. 483)

But how seriously do these children take the gender-role prescriptions they are rapidly learning? Many 3 to 7 years old do so; they often reason that these standards as a set of rules not to be violated (ibid.).

Bakir, Blodgett, and Rose (2008) have studied pupils from kindergarten and Grade 3 about their perception of gender roles through Gender Stereotyped Advertisements. They did this by showing kids plain commercials and agentic commercials and letting the researchers know how they feel through raising smileys – sad faces if they don’t like and happy faces for the commercials they liked. The research showed that advertisers do not need to make separate commercials for preadolescent boys and girls for they already know the gender stereotypes. Girls, according to the research, like more agentic elements than communal characteristics. The said agentic elements are those attributes specifically intended for girls while those communal characteristics are attributes they share with the boys (Bakir, et al., 2008).

Gender, too, is not always the perceived element by children but also racial differences. Children can already specify the people in their race whereas to other people who belong to a different ethnicity. Harrison (2005) in her study about racial differences in food advertisements as viewed by children, found out that although children knows the differences in race – it does not affect the buying behavior of the children. African Americans, labeled as “blacks”, are commonly characters of bread, cereals, and the like.; meanwhile, pure “American” people were most likely to be seen in advertisements of fast food. Although the research found out that the buying behavior of children and the characters in the food advertisements are not interrelated, it found out that children can classify race and ethnicity by that early stage.

Besides from gender and race, the workplace of adults can also be perceived by children through television. Barber (1999) wrote in her article “When I Grow Up: Children and the Work-World of Television”, tells about how television exaggerates professions that makes it unattractive to children. Since the dawn of television, children were asked what types of employments they wish to have when they grow up. Their career choice may be gender-related: girls to be more nurturing, indoor jobs while boys like their jobs to be adventurous outdoors. But now, television exaggerates some of the jobs in the industry. Like for instance, a plumber. We can’t see television “glamorizing” them as much as doctors are. According to Barber, it seems that they forgot the old saying that “…a good plumber can earn as much as a doctor.” She added that the portrayal of the “ultra-rich” in television overstresses children to choose jobs that include fame, wealth, and power.

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