Marketers seeking to understand how children react to ads could benefit from using research techniques that are based on non-verbal responses, according to a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Joëlle Vanhamme (EDHEC Business School, France) and Chung-Kit Chiu (a freelance illustrator) focused on children in the eight-to-11-year-old age range in their study, “Measuring different emotions in children with a pictorial scale: A self-reported nonverbal tool measures the emotions children experience when exposed to ads.”

“Children in this age group have some knowledge of advertising; they recognize the persuasive intent of commercials and are skeptical of the truthfulness of advertising claims,” the authors wrote.

“Unlike older children, however, young children do not always access this knowledge or use it to evaluate advertisements, because their ability to retrieve information is still developing.”

The study thus aimed to create a means via which members of this young audience could express their response to ads using the “Self-Reported Nonverbal Emotion-Measurement Instrument for Children (SNEMIC)” approach.

More specifically, this approach featured a cartoon character that “resembles a husky dog”, and was rigorously tested with children to prove it was “appealing and neither too masculine nor too feminine.”

And this character was used to express six basic emotions – joy, surprise, anger, sadness, fear and disgust – supported by a four-point framework to indicate the intensity of a respondent's reaction.

By testing and validating this methodology with children, the study was able to demonstrate that its proposed research format could offer a powerful means of measuring the emotional response to ads.

“Such efforts are critical, especially to advertising researchers and practitioners, because emotions have central influences on advertising responses,” the study said.

“Currently available measures (e.g., fMRI, EEG, facial-expression coding), however, suffer notable limitations, and verbal measures cannot determine reliably the content, valence, and intensity of emotions.

“The proposed method offers a readily applicable, easy-to-use option that can facilitate efforts to measure emotions accurately, even among children.”

As the research technique was tailored to the needs of children, it can enable marketers to more fully understand their response to brand messages, too.

Moreover, the study argued, “minimizing the number of questions required can curb research costs and avoid respondent boredom or fatigue and thus the risk of decreased response rates.

“The SNEMIC provides a short scale that also is fun to complete, thereby advancing current initiatives to reduce the length of measurement instruments in general.”

Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff