An Special Report


Study Finds They Love the Internet and Recognize Ads as Sales Hype

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

CHICAGO ( -- If they were allowed access to only a single medium and had to choose which one that would be, a majority of children would rather have the Internet than TV, radio or magazines,

Read quotes from children's online survey response.
according to a study of the youth market conducted for Advertising Age by NeoPets, a youth-oriented Web site.

The survey, which polled 12,500 youngsters up to 18 years of age, also found that even preteens recognize advertising as hucksterism and believe that children are more susceptible to its influence than adults.

Among kids (defined in the study as 7 or younger), 59% believed advertising can affect the opinions of children more easily than adults; that percentage climbs to 62% for tweens (8- to 12-year-olds) and 72% for teens (13- to 18-year-olds).

"As you grow older, the more concerned you become about the influence of advertising on younger kids," says NeoPets Executive Vice President Rik Kinney. "I think that's evidenced with some of the concerns with regard to advertising that targets kids. Those concerns are largely held by adults. There's this idea that kids don't know the difference between advertising and content, and that's simply not true. Perhaps they're becoming a bit more adultlike [as they grow older] in that they are concerned about children,

whereas children are less concerned about children."

The study was conducted on the Web site, whose 11 million registered members invent creatures that live and play in the virtual world of Neopia. More than 12,000 members, ages 18 and younger, responded to the wide-ranging study. (Total response rates for the study also included the opinions of young adults, 19- to 23-year-olds.)

A total of 67% respondents believed the main goal of advertising is to make them buy things; the next most-cited objective -- "to give you information" -- was only cited by 11%.

As far as how realistically ads portray children, respondents were not impressed. One a scale of 1 ("not realistically at all") to 5 ("very realistically"), the score descends as respondents grow up. Kids rated TV advertising, for example, a 3.9, while tweens gave it a 3.7 and teens a 3.2. Advertising generally fared no better, in the young respondents' minds, in how realistically it portrays adults.

But many respondents did admit they often tell their parents to buy things they see advertised. TV had the most power in this area, though its influence diminishes with age (kids, 65%; tweens, 38%; teens, 32%). This

Rik Kinney, Executive Vice President of Neopets.
trend repeats for magazines, radio and the Internet -- with one exception. While 28% of tweens often tell their parents to buy things they have seen in magazine ads, the percentage jumps to 37% for teens, then drops to 14% for young adults.

The preferred ad medium for young people overall, and the one they consider to be most interesting, is TV, followed by the Internet, magazines and radio. On a scale of 1 ("not at all") to 5 ("very interesting"), TV advertising is tops among all age groups (kids, 4.3; tweens, 3.8; teens, 3.5).

The top TV program was Fox's The Simpsons, the favorite "kids TV show" for 22% of respondents. ABC's Wonderful World of Disney was fourth on the favorites list, cited by only 8%. But there's a wide gender split, with 30% of boys citing The Simpsons as their favorite show vs. 14% of girls. The tables turn for Disney, with only 5% of boys calling it their favorite show vs. 12% of girls.

The top three TV networks overall are Cartoon Network, Disney Channel (cited by 20% of girls and 6% of boys) and Nickelodeon.

The Internet shows great potential in the study. Except for kids, respondents spend more hours a week with the Internet than with any other ad medium, and the hours soar as they get older (kids, 1.9; tweens, 8.7; teens, 12.2). Then comes TV (kids, 2.5; tweens, 6.8; teens, 7.6). The Internet also led the pack when respondents were asked which medium they would pick if they could have only one (kids, 54%;

tweens, 73%; teens, 65%). TV, magazines and radio usually follow in that order, with radio scoring no better than 5%.

"We did this survey online and we're exclusively surveying Internet users," Mr. Kinney says, "and it's going to account for some of that, but I think we can conclude that Internet users are extremely engaged with the Internet -- they live the Internet, they've grown up with the Internet, it's part of their lives."

The Net also bests all other media in "how involved" young people are when using the medium -- one a scale of 1 ("not at all") to 5 ("quite a lot"), the Net scored a 4.4 among kids, 4.5 for tweens and 4.3 for teens. The next most-involving medium, TV, never hits 4.0.

The Internet "has the potential to be as impactful [as TV] and perhaps even more so in terms of the degree of engagement that Internet users have. On the other hand, television is clearly the leader in terms of delivery of advertising and influence on sale of product. As an advertising medium, the Internet actually lags behind, and I think that's reflective of the ineffectiveness of traditional banners and buttons that Web sites have been notorious for," says Mr. Kinney, whose site offers a form of product placement rather than traditional Web ad tactics such as banners.

The good news for magazines is that readership tends to increase as young people grow, with 48% of teens reading one or two magazines a month. Gaming magazines are by far the most popular type for

One of the country's most popular print periodicals: PlayStation Magazine.
boys -- 10% cited GamePro as their favorite individual magazine title, while 16% named PlayStation-themed magazines (including Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine and PSM: 100% Independent PlayStation 2 Magazine). No other magazine title in the study, among either gender, scored higher than 8% (that was Teen People, among girls). Sports Illustrated was the favorite non-kids magazine for boys (cited by 35%) and National Geographic for girls (27%).


Young people really like funny ads.

"Humor tops the list by far and away above all aspects that we asked about," Mr. Kinney says, "and I can't imagine any aspect coming up as high as 89%. It's just an overwhelming majority."

Overall, 89% of respondents said they like TV ads that are funny; the number drops to 41% for commercials with famous musicians, 36% for famous movie actors and 27% for sports celebrities. Humor overpowers the other tactics by a wide margin among virtually all media and age groups -- for example, 89% of teens said they like TV advertising that's funny, while 43% mentioned ads with music stars; 36%, movie stars; and 26%, famous athletes.

"Humor as a common element to successful advertising across the media is king," Mr. Kinney says, "and particularly so with TV."

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said 16% of boys cited PlayStation Magazine as their favorite and 10% named the multiplatform GamePro. That allusion, as well as the related caption, actually referred to Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine. The survey question, however, was not that specific and only listed "PlayStation" as an option among magazine titles in the question "Which of these is your favorite magazine?" Some respondents may have been referring to PSM:100% Independent PlayStation 2 Magazine. (Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine has a higher paid circulation than PSM, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.) The text above has been clarified to say that 16% of boys cited PlayStation-themed magazines, rather than a specific PlayStation title, as their favorite.

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