Howard, S.R. (2002). Innocent little 30-sencond tales: How children’s food commercials normalize social alienation, violence, crime, and substance use: A content analysis of children’s food commercials, 1987-1998. (Doctoral dissertation, University of California at Los Angeles, 2002). Dissertation Abstracts International, 63 (10-B), 4964.
Abstract: Television commercials are more precisely orchestrated frame by frame than any other television genre; they are concentrated encapsulations of images and dialogue that intentionally carry several heavily-loaded levels of meaning during each one second of run time. However, the majority of content analyses of children’s commercials published to date have focused on providing a broad overview of product types and primary theme used, rather than undertaking in-depth, multi-layered thematic analysis. Further, analyses of children’s commercials have been almost entirely concerned with the content of what children are exposed to, rather than with quantitatively documenting the actual frequency with which children are exposed to such content. In this study, a storyboard method similar to that utilized in the construction of television commercials was designed and used to produce a second-by-second hard-copy recording of commercial visual and audio content, allowing in-depth deconstruction and quantitative analysis of children’s commercial content at the one-second frame level. This method was used to analyze the content of the most prevalent type of television advertising targeting children-children’s food commercials. The thematic and formal feature content of one hundred randomly selected children’s food commercials from 1987 and 1998, and a number of randomly selected intermediary examples from 1993, was analyzed qualitatively and quantitatively at the one-second frame level by this study. Results of this comparative longitudinal analysis show a strong shift away from prosocial and healthful themes in 1987, to antisocial and self-harming themes in 1998. In the place of the affectionate, happy, physically and emotionally healthy themes prominent in 1987 children’s food commercials, 1998 commercials were dominated by social alienation, violence, crime, and addiction like substance use. Further, these themes were repeatedly presented in a naturalizing and approving light, transmitting powerful messages to children that the same antisocial and self destructive behaviors which so concern society today are actually normal, acceptable, and even desirable. The analysis of children’s food commercial content carried out by this study contributes significant new understanding of television advertising as a potent factor in childhood socialization of violent, antisocial, and addictive behavior. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2004 APA, all rights reserved)