Child’s Play: A Systematic Review of Pester Power in India
I presented the following paper at the Judge Business School (JBS) Winter Doctoral Conference, at the University of Cambridge, on December 2012.
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Children in middle-class India take important decisions at home, contributing substantially to household budget contours. The increasing ‘overload’ of advertising targeted to children has been heavily criticized in child-marketing literature, given the assumption that children possess limited abilities to use cognitive defences against persuasion attempts (Brucks, Armstrong, and Goldberg 1988). Due to restricted capabilities, children misunderstand advertisement claims (Ross et al. 1981) and, as a result, make poor judgments regarding consumption of products and services (Armstrong and Brucks 1988). Advertising is perceived as a major source of parent-child conflict (Grossbart and Crosby 1984) because of ‘pester power’ which leads to escalating ‘life-dissatisfaction’ on the part of children.
Debate in the literature revolves around the age at which young children can distinguish television advertisements from programmes, when they can remember and want what they see, and when they are able to understand that the advertiser’s motive is to sell a product. Resolution of the debate has been hampered by methodological difficulties and paradigms which fail to fully capture and explain children’s responses to advertisements.
This paper will explore different marketing frameworks by creating a ‘direct-linkage model’ to critically examine the hypothesized relationship between increased (and more effective) advertising to children, their purchase requests (growth of “pester power”) and the sense of materialism and life-dissatisfaction that may result from this. It will also analyse the potential role of socialization (in nuclear families) and external agents (by unregulated international firms in the Indian market) in making children more susceptible to advertising effects and, consequently, a more profitable market by advocating a ‘socialization-agent model’. The two elements are not mutually exclusive: clearly if the former is true, important public policy changes must be considered regarding the latter.
By conducting a systematic review of existing sources in this field, the researcher’s initial analysis indicates that urban Indian children possess more advanced cognitive skills than suggested under the assumptions of the ‘direct-linkage’ model. Further review with respect to the role of Indian children in the formal economy unveils a rather tenuous link between materialism and unhappiness.
Culture-contingent market differences, coupled with changes within household units, imply that Indian children possess higher degrees of ‘cultural cool’ than their Western counterparts, at given levels of income. Whilst this may increase their ‘pester power’ and make them a profitable segment for marketers, a relatively saturated market will make it harder to ‘trick’ Indian children into buying their products. The importance of future study in this area is stressed.