International food advertising, pester power and its effects

Laura McDermott, Martine Stead, and Gerard Hastings
Institute for Social Marketing, University of Stirling and the Open University

Terry O'Sullivan
Open University


This paper will explore the phenomenon of 'purchase request behaviour' or, to use the more emotive journalistic term, 'pester power' (Young et al. 1996, p. 57), through a review of some of the more influential research on this controversial topic. We begin by analysing the key concepts underlying pester power – respectively, children's influence on family consumption and the sudden, and in some respects problematic, growth in their autonomy as consumers and individuals in modern society. Concerns about pester power do not just reflect anxieties about rapidly changing social norms and patterns of family formation, however. We later argue that they correspond with consumers' experience, supported by several studies that, together, offer an international perspective on how adults and children relate around purchasing behaviour. We then examine alternative views from researchers arguing that purchase request behaviour has little to do with advertising, and from industry bodies seeking to demonstrate responsible self-regulatory policies to prevent any potential undermining of parental authority resulting from promotion aimed at children. This is challenged, however, by evidence that received wisdom in the industry supports the notion of accessing the spending power of parents and grandparents through such promotion.