Advertising Targeted at Children and Current Approach to It in the Central European Region with Emphasis on Czech and German Examples. A Brief Linguistic-Educational Analysis

Publicidad dirigida a niños; el enfoque actual a este tipo de publicidad en Europa Central con énfasis en los ejemplos de la publicidad checa y alemana. Breve análisis lingüístico y educativo

Pavlína Tesařová (Institute of Technology and Business in České Budějovice)

Jindřiška Kraťková (Institute of Technology and Business in České Budějovice)

Artículo recibido: 21-12-2016 | Artículo aceptado: 04-03-2017

RESUMEN: El artículo trata de la publicidad actual dirigida a niños. Se analizan ejemplos de la publicidad de la República Checa y Alemania en cuanto a la traducción e identificación del público objetivo y su selección por la edad. El artículo muestra las preferencias propias de cada grupo de edad en consideración al tipo de medio utilizado. El artículo también presta atención a los factores sociodemográficos en el contexto de las estrategias mercadotecnias. El artículo también se dedica a la problemática de la ética en publicidad. Este estudio intenta aclarar las razones por las que la publicidad resulta atractiva para un cierto grupo de edad. A través del uso de ejemplos revela los principios de publicidad dirigida a niños desde el punto de vista visual, perceptivo, lingüístico y educativo.
ABSTRACT: The article deals with the genre of contemporary advertising targeting children. It uses examples from the Czech Republic and Germany and its translations, defines the target audience by age and presents preferences of respective age groups with respect to the type of media used for advertising. The article also pays attention to the sociodemographic factors in the background of marketing strategies. Ethical issues are also mentioned. The study sheds light on the reasons why a certain target group is attractive and with the aid of examples it exposes the principles of advertising targeting children from the visual, perceptional and linguistic-educational point of view.

PALABRAS CLAVE: Publicidad dirigida a niños, herramientas lingüísticas, alemán, checo
KEY WORDS: Advertising for children, linguistic devices, education, German, Czech


The scientific study was created during the project No. 201609 of the Internal Grant Competition at the Institute of Technology and Business in České Budějovice.


1. The World of Contemporary Advertising

In the modern world, people are surrounded by advertisements wherever they go, whether they be aware of it or not. A person living in a capital city encounters almost three thousand advertising messages a day, and the amount of advertisements that an inhabitant of smaller cities is exposed to every day is one fifth lower. Out of this number only about 2,5 percent of advertisements can be consciously processed (Vilém Rubeš, in an interview for Czech Radio 1 on 13 December 2013). Children live with us, and so they are exposed to this phenomenon exactly as much. However, it is necessary to add that only specific advertising messages appeal to children, and these are different from the advertisements targeted at adult population. The aim of this study is to analyse the linguistic features of advertisements targeted at children. The analyse is based on Czech and German advertisements, which are basically similar in their structure, and in some cases they can be even perceived as linguistic mutations.

2. Specifying of Target Group with Respect to Media Types

It serves the purpose of this article to define the category of children in terms of age range, though the lower and upper limit might be somewhat vague. While some older studies from the end of 1980s specify childhood as the period between 7 and 12 years of age (Schmidt, 1987: 25), at the same time a term “skippie” (school kid with income and purchasing power), widening the childhood age limits to the range from 6 to 14 years of age, started to appear at first in the Anglo-American world (Lange & Didszuweit, 1997: 48). At present, the lower age limit in relation to advertising targeting children has decreased even as low as to pre-school age, usually it moves between 3 to 6 years of age (Ogilvy & Mather, 2012: 6). The category of adolescents over 14 years old is not usually included in the category of children, although formally it is an intermediate stage between childhood and adulthood. This stage is dealt with in numerous separate thematic studies (e.g. Kinard, 2006; Meyer, 2004).

If we take into consideration the widest age limits, i.e. 3 to 14 years of age, for further specification it is helpful to divide this large group into three subgroups: pre-school age (3 – 7 years), early school age (8 – 11 years) and late school age or pre-adolescent phase (12 – 14 years of age).

The types of media through which advertisements can be transferred to children vary depending on the age groups stated above. As children in pre-school age cannot yet read, the only possible way to convey a message to the youngest age group is via TV advertising, while for children in early school age it is also internet advertising that starts to become influencing, although TV still prevails as the main advertising source. As for the last group, internet and new media such as tablets, and especially smartphones are in the foreground; the number of children smartphone users being as high as one third of the total (Ogilvy & Mather, 2012: 6). In Germany it is even 40 percent (IZI, 2012: 54). According to the data of IZI Institute collected in 2012, in Germany 76 percent of children up to 13 years of age have their own mobile device (IZI, 2012: 48).

3. Social and Ethical Background

At this point it is necessary to realize the complexity of the socio-demographic and socio-historical changes as well as the changes of marketing strategies that took place in the last few decades. In an individualistically-oriented society of today, focusing mainly on performance, children are growing up in smaller families than before and parents tend to lavish them with everything. Another extreme is that parents, being extremely busy, let their kids grow up freely, without any restrictions (see e.g. conception of free upbringing at nevychova.cz). In such cases, the media and advertisements gain a great power. They provide caring parents and children growing up in freedom with clear and “the best” options to make them reach for their product. What makes it easier for marketing experts is the fact that the consumer’s critical thinking ability may be diminished. Parents as adults always have the decisive right, therefore they should think realistically and understand the level up to which an advertising message is compatible with reality, and they should be willing, as well as able, to explain to their children the limits acceptable for a specific family. Although advertising targeting children is in the Czech Republic and also in Germany regulated by legislation (in the Czech Republic by Act on the Regulation of Advertising 138/2002 Coll., §2c, a broader version of which is valid also in Germany where it is a part of Jugendmedienschutz-Staatsvertrag JMStV from 2002, §6)[1], there are frequent discussions concerning the ethics of advertising aimed at children. From this reason, 40 percent of Czech companies additionally follow their own ethical codes (Ogilvy & Mather, 2012: 9). However, not even these can guarantee the full protection against unethical marketing practices. It is because the borderline that separates the acceptable from the unacceptable is very vague. Therefore, with respect to the attitude to media and advertising, parents function as an irreplaceable model for their children.

Because the borders of so-called “below the line” advertising are not clear, it is not possible to define it clearly as direct advertising. However, it appears more and more often in the form of “product placement” in TV programmes intended for the specified target group. The persons introducing TV programmes wear clothes with cartoon characters popular among children, there is a bottle of some fruit beverage of a well-known brand standing, as if just by chance, on the table, children use toys with the maker’s logo clearly visible, or electronics with likewise easily identifiable company logo etc.

In relation to ethics, there are also discussions about advertisements for food and beverages that contain excessive amount of sugar and fat, and that are unsuitable for children if consumed too much, as they might have direct influence e.g. on children obesity. Although the producers keep defending themselves by saying that there are no relevant studies proving any connection between the advertisements (not consumation itself) and children obesity, this question is at least disputable.

In Germany in 2013, the consumer organization Foodwatch was for the fifth time awarding anti prizes for the most problematic food advertisements targeting children, which use extremely aggressive advertising strategies (Stuttgarter Zeitung, 2013)[2].

4. Special Products for Children

Lange (2002: 826) mentions three reasons why a child consumer is so attractive from a product marketing viewpoint. First, children are the primary market consumers – special products for children are manufactured, and some older children buy these products by themselves. Second, children have a great potential to influence adults and persuade them to buy a product (such market is nowadays called “nagging market”. And third, the child customer of today soon becomes an adult customer whose purchasing power is expected to increase.

At this point it is relevant to mention types of advertised products. What belongs among the most advertised products that are according to the specification stated above intended directly for children consumers as primary recipients of advertising message, is food (candies, cereals, drinks, dairy products), toys, electronics for children, clothes, free-time activities. There are also advertisements, which are not targeted directly at children but at their parents, but which are still connected with products for children, e. g. pharmacy products (dietary supplements and vitamins for children, vaccines).

According to the research of Ogilvy – Mather (2012: 7), the most important criterion to make a children advertisement successful is the visual aspect. What follows is an easily memorable form and proper placement (i.e. the choice of media), but also an appropriate display of goods directly in the shop (merchandising). The influence of intensity and length of the advertising campaign is rather insignificant. As for the particular methods of catching attention through visual design, the popular characters from cartoons and films for children are the most widely used. In Germany the following characters are used, listed here from the most frequent: Bob the Builder, SpongeBob, Cars, Barbie (IZI, 2012: 25). The producers are well aware of this phenomenon and as a usual form of propagation they use so-called “licensing”, i. e. the licence agreements, according to which they have an approval from the rights owner to use the respective characters as a design for their products. In the Czech Republic, a good example is the porcelain producer Thun, the sole and exclusive owner of the rights to use the animated character of the Mole on the porcelain for children (2013). What is used to describe the connection between the thematic world full of popular animated heroes, fun and toys on the one side and advertising on the other, is the term “bonding” – from the psychological point of view primarily understood as the creation of the bond between mother and child.

5. External Form of Advertisements as Connected with Linguistic Devices

The visual aspect of advertisements works in a similar way as slogans; it can get recorded to memory and then be recalled every time the respective product is seen again (Janich, 2001: 60). A lilac colored cow is unmistakably associated with the Milka chocolate, although it may appear on TV or billboards also in isolation. In case of children, such associations increase geometrically with age. A ten-year-old child is supposed to know 300 to 400 of brands (zeit.de, 2013).

As for the choice of expressive means, the most desirable is a clear, brief, unambiguous message. The usage of overstatement is likewise interesting. While in advertisements for adults, especially in “mood advertising”[3], it is the element of irony and overstatement that is frequently used, the same thing might be misunderstood and therefore fail to arouse interest if employed in an advertisement for children. Although according to psychological studies it is generally assumed that children can understand overstatements only as late as between 8 and 10 years of age, there are also studies (Recchia, 2010) proving that even children between 4 and 6 years of age are able to decipher at least some messages expressed by means of overstatement, hyperbole.

For children, one of the most noticeable aspects of TV and also internet advertisements is what they sound like. Melody and rhythm provide a foundation for rhyme, the linguistic figure that is very productive in this type of advertisement. The simplest AABB rhyme scheme is especially useful because it is easy to remember when supported by rhythm and a catchy music. Children are familiar with songs, poems, and nursery rhymes from the very early stages of their life, and that is why they feel comfortable with the combination of these elements also in different contexts. This can be demonstrated by an example of the Czech and German version of the TV and internet advertisement for Paula pudding from Dr. Oetker: the product has its own webpage containing online games and activities for children, applications for downloading to smartphones. There are also sections for parents and teachers where it is possible to find materials that can be used during lessons. The above mentioned organization Foodwatch pointed out a question whether it is ethical to integrate advertisements into the educational materials for school children. The target group are children of 8-11 years of age, i.e. of early school age according to the above classification.

CZ: Paula to je hvězda, která se ti nezdá. Dělá pudink strakatý, jdi do Pauly taky ty. Vanilka a čoko- čokoláda. Jenom tohle Paula ráda. Paula brýle nasadí, do pohody tě naladí.

(translation: Paula she’s a star, not just a dream. She makes a splodgy pudding, you should also try it. Vanilla and choco-chocolate, that’s what Paula simply loves. Paula puts on glasses, and makes you feel relaxed.)

DE: Die Paula ist ´ne Kuh, die macht nicht einfach “Muh”. Die macht ´nen Pudding, der hat Flecken,
den kannst du löffeln und auch schmecken. Vanille, Schoko, Schoko, Vanille, neu von Paula mit der Brille! Paulas Pudding, Superstar, coole Flecken! Alles Klar?

(translation: Paula is a cow who does not only moo. She makes a pudding that has splodges, you can spoon it, it tastes good. Vanilla, chocolate, chocolate, vanilla, new from Paula with her glasses! Paula’s pudding, superstar, cool splodges! Is that clear?

(English version: Paula is a cow who does more than just moo, she makes a tasty treat with cool splodges too! Chocolate flavour, vanilla flavour, with Paula they taste great together! She wears shades, she is cool, tasty splodges for me and you!

In both cases the simple AABB rhyme scheme is used, and the background music is the same. The Czech version is a loose translation of the German original adjusted to the rhythm. The verbal and non-verbal aspects are matching.

The Czech TV spot for Nutella chocolate cream is intended for the children of 12 – 14 years of age, which is the oldest children group. The main protagonists are a mother and father with their son who belongs to this age group, having breakfast together at the table as usual. The introductory text “A very normal morning” in the traditional colors of Nutella brings about the atmosphere.

Je nejrychlejší ve fotbale a první ve třídě kdo si našel slečnu. Ale když přijde na vstávání, po kom to ten kluk asi má?! Ale smysl pro humor má rozhodně po tátovi. Nutella, ráno dělá den.

(translation: He is the fastest in football and the first in the class who found a girlfriend. But when it comes to getting up… Who does he take after in this?! Well, as for sense of humour, he definitely takes after his father. Nutella – The morning makes the day).

The mother describes her son while he is sleeping at the table together with his father. As soon as she opens a new jar of Nutella, both of them wake up and start spreading it on the bread slices. What goes on in this spot is to present an everyday situation. The purpose of this spot is to portray an everyday situation, in which the recipients easily recognize themselves and with which they identify. The product then works to instill energy, so that one feels relaxed for the whole day, and all of this in an idyllic family atmosphere. It is possible to describe this form of advertisement by the term slice of life, because it portrays a real life situation which is easy to identify with for the biggest part of the audience and in which they can see an analogy from their lives.

We can observe pretty much the same atmosphere in the German version of the advertisement from the series of “A very normal morning”, here „Ein ganz normaler Morgen“. A boy of 12-14 years of age (A) is sitting by a table, spreading Nutella on a slice of bread and wondering where he put the letter for his beloved. His older sister (B) finds the letter lying on the stairway and she is about to reveal it to their parents. Her brother pushes towards her his plate with bread and Nutella, suggesting that it is for her. She gives it a short thought, and tells her parents some other story. They both take one half of the bread and eat it together.

A: Wo ist denn der Brief für Hanna? Na toll! B: Mama, papa, wisst ihr schon was heißt das. A: Hier, für dich. B: Ich, ehm, ich kam früher aus der Schule. Off: Nutella, der Morgen macht den Tag.

Translation: A: Where on Earth did I put the letter for Hanna? Great! B: Mom, Dad, do you know what this is? A: Here, this is for you. B: I… ehm, I just came from school a little early. Announcer: Nutella – The morning makes the day.

The graphic aspect in both Czech and German version of the spot is matching, they both portray a family at breakfast time. The slogan of Nutella is also a literal translation from the German original. Both the spots fit into slice-of-life category.

What is among the first words that a child learns besides the words for family members, are also interjections. Children learn the sounds of animals, and other sounds of the world around them, they feel familiar with these sounds. This fact may be used as an effective means to make children remember a commercial or a product, especially when it is combined with music. It is used also by the company Kellogg’s in the animated commercial for Honey Bsss Loops breakfast cereals. The same commercial song appears in many different language versions, beside the English original there is also a French, Italian or German version. The target group is wide in this case, it appeals to the children of 3-14 years of age.

DE: Die Sonne weckt uns auf. Es ist schön, es ist Tag. Es ist Zeit für Honey Loops. Miam, miam, miam. Knusprig. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Meine honigsüße Umarmung am Morgen.

(Translation: The Sun wakes us up. The weather’s nice, it’s a day. It’s time for Honey Loops. Yum, yum, yum. Crunchy. Crunch, crunch, crunch. My honey-sweet morning hug.)

(English version: The sun is shining, waking up, sleepy heads, let’s get out of bed… For honey pops, yum, yum, yum. They’re tops crunch, crunch, crunch. Like a honey hug in the sunshine.)

Here it is interesting that foreign interjections (not German) are used. In different languages, different words are used to say that a meal tastes good – it is “mňam” in Czech, “hhm” or “mm” in German, “miam” in French.  Although the German word for a crack sound is “knirsch”, here we have the English word “crunch”. It is obvious that the choice of specific linguistic devices was necessary to keep the rhythm of the English original, therefore the foreign expressions rather than purely domestic ones were used. In this case the whole effect is supported by a clear visual element; a picture of a bee that is crunching and enjoying the food. This contributes to the effectiveness of the message intended for children. The words taken from foreign languages, especially from English, are commonly used because they make an impression of originality, attractiveness, trendiness, and they move with times, putting emphasis on globality and internationalization. They are simply “in”.

It is similar e. g. in the internet advertisement for a Dr. Oetker’s pudding: The language of the main text Schau‘ was es Neues gibt oder probier‘ ‚kuhle‘ Spiele auf www.paula-welt.de (translation: Have a look what’s new and try cool games at www.paula-welt.de) is colloquial, with a plenty of apostrophes and a non-existing word “kuhl”, evoking English “cool” as well German “Kuh” – the cow Paula, the mascot of the advertised pudding of the same name. The use of puns, occasional expressions, neologisms are typical for advertising targeting children. They stimulate imagination, they are witty, and for children they are easy to remember.

Makers of these products often post various quizes, interactive games or jigsaw puzzles on their webpages. The aim is to intensify the contact with the advertised product by making it a part of a game. They of course offer also an opportunity to win interesting prizes for collecting of wrappings, caps, or some other form of drawing of lots. Such an advertising method is in the German context termed as aleatory (Bruhn & Homburg, 2004:891). In the German context, the term “aleatorische Werbung” is used for prize-winning games and drawing of lots that are not under official control as long as the organiser does not put pressure on people to buy the products. The English equivalent “aleatory advertising” appears only rarely, it is not implemented in the advertising area. It is similar in the Czech context as well, because the term “aleatory” is used only in the legal context in the expression “aleatory contract” or in musicology as “aleatory music”, which means “having the elements of coincidentality, uncertainty, improvisation”.

6. Children’s Perception of Advertisements

According to the results of a few studies (Sander, 2009: 44) including the complex report “Werberezeption 2006” issued by Central Association of the German Advertising Trade (Zentralverband der deutschen Werbewirtschaft, ZAW), in difference to adults, children do not perceive the advertising blocks that are a part of TV broadcasting as disturbing. They perceive it as an inherent part of the programme, as a part of exploring the world. The influence of media, as well as advertisements, on the development of the personality of children is therefore undeniable.

7. Summary

By the analysis of particular examples it is proved that the most productive linguistic means in advertisements targeting children is rhyme, especially the simple AABB rhyme scheme, regardless of the age group classification. Together with a catchy background music and visual design, it creates a well-balanced unit that is easy to remember. As for the youngest target group, i.e. pre-school children between 3 and 7 years of age, the most effective are the wholly animated advertisements with a lot of animal characters, nursery rhymes and songs, which children know very well from fairy tales and stories narrated by their parents, and therefore these elements are easily accepted by children also in the form of advertisements. The children from 7 to 11 years of age are fond of exploring, discovering and learning new things about the world around them. What becomes attractive for these children are the spots that connect melody and possibility to learn new things. The oldest group of pre-adolescent children between 12 and 14 years of age becomes the addressee of spots using the language that is similar to the communicative patterns of these children, i.e. colloquial language, puns, double-meanings, sometimes even vulgarisms. Other spots intended for this target group are the spots, the structure of which is similar to the spots for adults, especially from the slice-of-life category. These spots move closer to real life, therefore one can identify with them easily. The differences between Czech and German advertisement are only insignificant, and it is possible to judge them as marginal.

8. Works Cited

Becker, Ulrich (2006). Werberezeption. Die neue Intermedia-Studie der ZMG. Frankfurt, M.: ZMG. <http://www.pms-tz.de/downloads/werberezeption.pdf>. (2014-01-17).

Bruhn, Manfred & Homburg, Christian (2004). Gabler Lexikon Marketing. 2.Aufl. Wiesbaden: Gabler, 2004. p. 891.

Janich, Nina (2001). Werbesprache. Ein Arbeitsbuch.2. Aufl. Tübingen: Narr, 2001. p. 60.

Kinard, Brian Russ (2006). A comparison of advertising, social, and cognitive predictors of adolescent and adult risk behaviors. Thesis (Ph. D.). Mississippi State University. Department of Marketing, Quantitative Analysis and Business Law, 2006. p. 210.

Lange, Andreas (2002). Werbung zwischen Sein und Werden-Inszenierungsmuster von Kindheit und Kindern in der komerzialisierten Gesellschaft. In: Willems Herbert (Hrsg.). Die Gesellschaft der Werbung. Kontexte und Texte, Produktionen und Rezeptionen, Entwicklungen und Perspektiven. Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag, 2006. pp. 821-840.

Lange, Reiner &  Didszuweit, J.Reiner (1997). Kinder, Werbung und Konsum: Theoretische Grundlagen und didaktische Anregungen. Offenbach: Gemeinschaftswerk der Evangelischen Publizistik, 1997. p. 48.

Meyer, Wilhelm (2004). Tabakwerbung und Gesundheitspolitik. In: Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik 224.1/2. pp. 135-151.

Ogilvy & Mather (2012). Děti a reklama. <www.ogilvy.cz/data/files/study/ 1456_studie_ogilvymather_deti%20a%20reklama.pdf>. (2013-12-17).

Orde, Heike von. Grunddaten Kinder und Medien 2012. <http://www.br-online.de/jugend/izi/deutsch/Grunddaten_Kinder_u_Medien_2012_de.pdf>. (2014-01-08).

Recchia, H. E. & Howe, N. & Ross, H. S. & Alexander, S. (2010). Children’s understanding and production of verbal irony in family conversations. In: The British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 28, pp. 255-274.

Sander, Uwe (2009). Werbung und ihre Wirkung bei Kindern. In: Gottberg, Joachim von/ Rosenstock, Roland (Hg.): Werbung aus allen Richtungen. Crossmediale Markenstrategien als Herausforderung für den Jugendschutz. München: Kopaed, 2009. p. 39-44.

Schmidt, Marcus (1987). Kinderwerbung in Kinderzeitschriften. Eine Inhaltsanalyse der Werbebotschaften in drei ausgewählten Titeln. Frankfurt am Main, Bern, New York, Paris: Peter Lang. Europäische Hochschulschriften. p.25.

Schmähpreis für das dreisteste Kindermarketing. In: Stuttgarter Zeitung (2013-05-18) <www.stuttgarter-zeitung.de/inhalt.verbraucherschutz-schmaehpreis-fuer-das-dreiste ste-kindermarketing.a16c9593-5e42-4e10-b974-162d45bc2a7d.html>.

Süße Geschäfte. In: Zeit (2013-05-19) <www.zeit.de/2013/20/kinder-marketing-werbung

Vilém Rubeš: Vánoce jsou v reklamní branži jedním z vrcholů sezóny [online audio]. <www.rozhlas.cz/radiozurnal/host/_zprava/1291043>. (2013-12-13).

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Notas:    (↵ regresa al texto)
  1. With respect to persons under 18 years of age, an advertisement must not a) support any behavior endangering their health, mental or moral development; b) make use of their inexperience or credulity to persuade them into buying products or services; c) encourage them to persuade their parents or legal representatives or other persons to buy products or services; d) make use of their specific trust towards their parents or legal representatives or other persons; e) show them in dangerous situations in an improper way.
  2. The anti prizes for the year 2013 were awarded to these products, in the following order: Capri Sonne drink, Paula pudding from Dr. Oetker, Kosmo–Stars breakfast cereals from Nestlé, Pom-Bär potato chip.
  3. Such an advertisement puts emphasis on the atmosphere and story, as opposed to the mere presentation of the product. The product itself appears in these advertisements only marginally to help create the overall atmosphere, or it is shown to the recipient at the very end of the advertising spot.

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