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Media Literacy – A Topic for All Ages

We have noted previously the need for modern schools to begin to include media literacy in their respective curricula. It is a subject of growing importance as we move into a world where savvy business and advertising professionals consistently seek to take advantage of an undereducated and naïve public citizenry.

Two recent reports reveal how media is impacting our lives. The first involves a recent survey by Harris Interactive called the Youth EquiTrends Study. The second involves a poll conducted by, based at the University of Maryland, and Knowledge Networks on the recent election and the disappointing level of misinformed voters.

EquiTrends Study

The Harris Interactive survey consisted of polling more than five thousand 8- to 24-year-olds last August. The researchers sought to identify what has been dubbed “brand equity” amongst our young people.

iStock_000012962995XSmallBrand equity is a term used to express a brand’s overall strength based upon three factors: familiarity, quality, and purchase consideration. To get at the youngster’s view of specific product names, those polled were asked to rate between 98 and 125 popular brands of goods. The research sample was drawn online for 13- to 24-year-olds and by way of parents for 8- to 12-year-olds.

The 8- to 12-year-old top ten went like this:

1. Nintendo Wii
2. Doritos
3. Oreo’s
4. M&Ms
5. Disney Channel
6. Nickelodeon
7. Nintendo DS
8. McDonald’s
9. Toys R Us
10. Cartoon Network

It was somewhat nice to see Nintendo holding the top spot since the Wii incorporates exercise into the gaming experience. But in an era where children are suffering from premature obesity so much is revealed by what we see in slots 2, 3, 4 and 8.

And while television appears prominently in the top ten, no mention is made of the one television program, Sesame Street, that might mix the viewing pleasure with some learning.

If we move on to 13- to 17-year-olds the level of junk food and the extreme calorie intake moves just a tad further:

1. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
2. iPod
3. Google
4. M&Ms
5. Oreo’s
6. Subway
7. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate
8. Target
9. Sprite
10. Microsoft

On the positive site, there is a noteworthy drop here in television-related items and the move towards media that is at least interactive (Google and Microsoft).

Finally for the oldest group , 18- to 24-year-olds, we see some modest changes:

1. Google
2. Facebook
3. iPod
4. Gatorade
5. Target
6. Subway
7. Apple
8. iTunes
9. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

It is clearly nice to see those food items fall down and off the list. But this list speaks volumes for educators especially given the brand familiarity of Google and Facebook to this age group. Those wanting to implement these tools in the education setting clearly have a captive audience that is already familiar with their use.

Of course, this also conjures up that age-old challenge for educators: distractibility. While these tools can be put to use in the learning environment, their ability to be utilized so easily in an off-task manner continues to leave educators concerned about their implementation.

Finally, if ages are not broken out we see the following list:

1. M&Ms
2. Google
3. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
4. Oreo’s
5. iPod
6. Target
7. Subway
8. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate
9. Doritos
10. Pixar

Uninformed Public Voter

iStock_000005620177XSmall The second report on the impact of media and the need to be aware of its effects parallels one of our more recent concerns regarding uniformed voters. The World Public Opinion poll reported that 9 in 10 voters indicated they had encountered information they believed was misleading or false during the 2010 election. The report further noted that 56% of respondents indicated they thought this had occurred frequently with a nearly like number (54%) believing this misinformation was more frequent than usual.

But the most interesting development was that voters in total had in fact been misinformed on some very basic issues but did not realize they were unaware of the truth. For example, though the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had concluded that the stimulus legislation has saved or created somewhere between 2.0-5.2 million jobs, only 8% of voters thought most economists who had studied it concluded that the stimulus legislation had created or saved several million jobs. Perhaps most astonishingly, 20% even believed that it resulted in job losses.

As but one more example, though the CBO concluded that the health reform law would reduce the budget deficit, 53% of voters thought most economists have concluded that health reform would increase the deficit.

Because misinformed viewers actually reported watching different news channels, the failure to be properly informed could not be attributable to one specific news source. Perhaps most importantly, those who had greater exposure to news sources were generally better informed.

But the report did reveal a number of cases where greater exposure to a news source increased misinformation on a specific issue. The report also noted that those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to be misled.

Some examples with direct quotes from the study:

Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely), most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points), the economy is getting worse (26 points), most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points), the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points), their own income taxes have gone up (14 points), the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points), when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points) and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points).

As for the final nail in the Fox coffin, the effect was not deemed a function of partisan bias. Even those Fox watchers who voted Democratic were more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch that specific network.

Media Literacy

In our world today, we are bombarded with imagery designed to sell us on specific products. Our media consumption involves exposure via two traditional outlets, television and print media, as well as all the new forms that accompany the explosion of technology and the Internet.

It is important for all of us to understand that those candy makers and the folks at Doritos know how to get their message across. As we move towards epidemic levels of obesity in our country, it is imperative we look at the messages being provided to children on a daily basis.

But we adults are just as easily manipulated. How else could those who watch a certain network that calls itself “fair and balanced” not realize they are not receiving factually accurate information.

Collectively, the two studies reveal the importance of being able to realistically and properly assess brands. The results are alarming.

First, and foremost, we can clearly see that the ability to assess is not something the general public can do. And that of course leads to the ultimate issue, that brand equity transfers over time into brand loyalty.

1 comment

1 Eve { 02.13.11 at 12:48 am }

Very interesting. Was also wondering if the age groups in other countries have similar findings. I believe it would be somewhat similar.

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