Environmental influences on pre-schooler’s understanding of brand symbolism

Leah Watkins (University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand)
Robert Aitken (Department of Marketing, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand)
Maree Thyne (University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand)
Kirsten Robertson (Department of Marketing, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand)
Dina Borzekowski (University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, USA)

Marketing Intelligence & Planning

ISSN: 0263-4503

Publication date: 2 October 2017



The purpose of this paper is to understand the factors influencing young children’s (aged three to five years) understanding of brand symbolism.


Multiple hierarchical regression was used to analyse the relationships between age, gender and environmental factors, including family and the media, on the development of brand symbolism in pre-school children based on 56 children and parent dyad interviews.


Results confirmed the primary influence of age, television exposure and parental communication style on three to five-year-old children’s understanding of brand symbolism. The study demonstrates that the tendency to infer symbolic user attributes and non-product-related associations with brands starts as early as two years, and increases with age throughout the pre-school years. Children exposed to more television and less critical parental consumer socialisation strategies are more likely to prefer branded products, believe that brands are better quality and that they make people happy and popular.

Social implications

Identifying the factors that influence the development of symbolic brand associations in pre-school children provides an important contribution to public policy discussions on the impact of marketing to young children.


The paper extends existing research by considering, for the first time, the role of environmental factors in pre-schooler’s understanding of brand symbolism. The results provide a more informed basis for discussion about the impact of marketing messages on very young children and the environmental factors that may lead to a more critical engagement with brands.



Watkins, L., Aitken, R., Thyne, M., Robertson, K. and Borzekowski, D. (2017), "Environmental influences on pre-schooler’s understanding of brand symbolism", Marketing Intelligence & Planning, Vol. 35 No. 7, pp. 907-922. https://doi.org/10.1108/MIP-11-2016-0211

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