Online Surveys as Research Tools

While most surveys can yield a valuable amount of data, both qualitative and quantitative, the convenience of online surveys can reach a wide sampling and provide a large amount of data relatively quickly and at low cost. An example of one recent study that drew its information from dozens of different online surveys was presented in the April 2011 issue of the journal Media Culture & Society. Jennifer Ann Hill discussed the effects of branding and advertising on the self-perception of children in “Endangered childhoods: how consumerism is impacting child and youth identity.”

Hill asserts that technology has been a double-edged sword, on the one hand inducing anti-social behavior and reinforcing racist and sexist stereotyping and on the other hand being praised for educational advancements. Consumerism of children between the ages of 4 and 12 accounts for $130 million annually, with the influence of $565 billion of their parents’ spending, which is why advertising and branding are specifically focused on controlling the purchasing power of these mini-magnates.

While this age group is physically, emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically different from adult consumers, media and advertising treats children the same and is blurring the lines of subjects that were formerly taboo and robbing children of their creative play and childhood experiences that are important in natural human development, according to Hill. Children are identifying with images and personae portrayed in advertisements, videos, and other media through “disconnection and the insatiable desire to transform the self” rather than discovering their own identities. Surveys in children’s health and activity trends reinforce the influence of media in the daily lives of western society’s youth. (On average, children and adolescents spend 15,000 hours watching television versus 12,000 in the classroom by the time they graduate high school.)

Further surveys show that brand loyalty is being sought from the cradle, and children begin to recognize brands before they walk, can discriminate between programming and ads by age 5, and understand that ads don’t always portray the truth by age 8, all of which leads many organizations to justify direct advertisement to children at earlier ages. Branding toward tweens and teens not only encourages purchases, but adoption of an identity/aura that the brand represents (Aeropostale, PacSun, etc.). According to Hill, the fiercely competitive market for children’s attention in cradle-to-grave brand loyalty battles has led to dramatic cultural shifts in identity development.

So I must ask, when is enough enough? Does the traditional view of child development yield to a new idea of development? Are we raising generations of children that will never be satisfied with who they are and what they have? What are the long-term effects of branded consumerism on children raised in an advertising-saturated media free-for-all? On society in general?

Surveys played a significant role in this research, and may be a valuable tool as I begin to to explore research topics for class (crowdsourcing in presidential campaigns is a contender). I registered for a free trial of the survey research site Qualtrics (www.qualtrics.com).While I am not yet comfortable enough to create my own survey, Qualtrics provides hundreds of valuable resources in its library — everything from “Help Us Name Our Baby” to “Supplier Service Evaluation Survey”. Tailoring an existing survey, or at least using one as a guide, will help me gauge the effectiveness of survey questions and length.

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4 thoughts on “Online Surveys as Research Tools

  1. I don’t think there is ever a limit of enough with advertisements. I don’t think its good for children to be exposed to this world too early but like your research article states, its almost inevitable. There are many negative effects of children seeing advertisements at an early age, for example, eating disorders could form after seeing models for their favorite clothing brand and realizing they don’t look like that.

    Because brand loyalty is developed early on in life, its also harder to break that bond. Therefore, companies are constantly trying to top each other by gaining the audience’s attention. It will never stop and companies will always be stressing how to be better than the competitor. Whether its more amazing graphics or better ads or faster product launch time, the war is constant.

    As far as online surveying goes, I think this method is effective if you can get enough participants for data collection. I feel that our society does not like doing anything for free so sometimes its hard to get participants to even do an online survey without have a sweepstakes or a reward attached to the survey.

    • I agree that most times surveys seem more of a pain and I try to ignore them, but when I am asked to complete one that interests me or seems relatively short and useful, I’ll take the minute or two it take to complete it online. I would even venture to say that the incentives don’t have to be monetary or other “stuff”. Sometimes knowing why they want me to complete a survey and what the information is for convinces me to participate.

  2. What an interesting topic to focus on with this. I think the internet for children is no different than TV or Magazines – if children are overexposed then there will be negative connotations in their development. I think consumerism, especially in rebuilding the economy in recent years, has had it go out the roof to encourage people to shop but I think that will eventually level off.

    In regards to the long-term effects, I think advertising will be annoying and taboo to this next generation. I don’t think the posh image that advertising portrays today be will cool even in 10 years so I think we’re going to see a huge cultural shift to how advertising plays out down the road.

  3. Kristi, I think you’re right about the cultural shift in advertising. The same old methods are not going to work with the new diversity in media and shifts in consumer behavior as a result of the current bombardment.

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