The Tweens Market and Responses to Advertising in Denmark and Hong Kong

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The Tweens Market and Responses to Advertising

in Denmark and Hong Kong
Lars P. Andersen

(Corresponding author)

Associate Professor

Department of Marketing & Management

University of Southern Denmark

Campusvej 55

DK-5230 Odense M

Tel: (45) 6550 3369 Fax: (45) 6615 5129

Birgitte Tufte


Department of Marketing

Copenhagen Business School

Tel: (45) 3815 2169 Fax: (45) 3815 2101


Jeanette Rasmussen

PhD student

Department of Marketing

Copenhagen Business School

Tel: (45) 3815 2190 Fax: (45) 3815 2101


Kara Chan


Department of Communication Studies

Hong Kong Baptist University

Tel: (852) 3411 7836 Fax: (852) 3411 7890


Paper published in Young Consumers


Acknowledgement: The Danish study presented in this paper was part of the project ‘Tweens Between Media & Consumption’, supported by the Danish Research Council for the Humanities. The Hong Kong study presented in this paper was fully supported by a Faculty Research Grant from the Hong Kong Baptist University (Project No. FRG/0405/II-45).

The Tweens Market and Response to Advertising

in Denmark and Hong Kong
Keywords: Tweens – Consumer Socialization – Advertising – Internet

Structured Abstract

Research paper


The present study compares sources of money as well as response to television commercials and pop up advertisements on the Internet among young “tween” consumers in Denmark and Hong Kong. Findings are compared with existing preconceptions of the tween segment in the marketing literature.


A survey was conducted in six primary schools in Denmark and Hong Kong, with 434 respondents from fourth, fifth and sixth grades.


The Danish tweens received higher monthly incomes from all sources than Hong Kong tweens. Danish tweens were more likely to spend money on CDs, computer games, clothing, sports equipment, and cosmetics/jewelry than Hong Kong tweens. Hong Kong tweens were more likely to spend money on books than Danish tweens. The results showed complex differences in the perception and reactions to advertising. The results seem to support that tween consumption and responses to advertising are motivated differently in cultures of individualism and collectivism, and consequently that the tween consumer segment is not as globally homogenous as it is claimed to be.

Research Limitations/Implications

The study was based on a convenience sample. The questionnaire consisted of mainly dichotomous scales, limiting the available statistical analysis. Further qualitative study is needed to explore the reasons for the differences.

Practical Implications

The study can serve as a guideline for marketing communication targeting tweens, particularly in case of international or global campaigns.


This paper offers insights into designing communication strategies for tweens, particularly when incorporating advertising on television as well as new media. Policy makers should be aware that perceptions and impact of advertising on children may vary significantly across cultures.


The segment called ‘tweens’ has in recent years been hailed as a golden opportunity. Many impressive, though opaque, estimates have been made on the value of the direct and indirect tweens market. It is part of the conception that the tweens market should be a very lucrative one, hence the subtitle of Siegel et al. (2004): “…Capturing Your Share of the Multibillion-Dollar Tween Market”. Lindstrom (2004) and Siegel et al. (2004) also present tweens as a truly global, homogenous segment. Combine it with the idea that they are avid TV consumers and love TV advertising and you have a very appealing idea of a new segment. However, a study of British and Spanish girls’ preferences of snack foods shows significant differences in the values influencing their choice of brands (Dibley and Baker, 2001), thus indicating that there may be highly relevant cultural differences that were overlooked in the previous literature on tweens. Also Andersen et al. (2007) found significant differences in tween use of new media in Hong Kong and Denmark.

TV-advertising is suggested as a very important advertising medium when targeting tweens in the marketing literature and there is widespread public concern about the influence of TV advertising. There is therefore a need to investigate how the tween market responds to television advertising, and also many scholars found that attitudes toward advertising have positive correlation with attitudes towards brands and purchase intentions (Prendergast and Ho, 2006).

The present study is designed to probe differences between two cultural contexts that are both technologically and economically developed, focusing in factors that are relevant to marketers and policy makers: TV-advertising and tweens direct purchasing power.

Television is King?

It is a common notion in the marketing literature on tweens that TV is the most effective media in reaching tween audiences. As Siegel et al (2004) puts it “television is king” (p. 132).

Television consumption is peaking in tween-hood, around the age of 12 (Gunther and Furnham, 1998), and considering the large amount of time spent consuming television, it seems to be a reasonable assumption that TV advertising is the most powerful media in relation to tweens. However, several sensitive issues are related to TV advertising towards tweens, most importantly issues surrounding the potential need for protection against ‘unfair’ exploitation of marketers (Cross, 2002; Edmond, 2006; Palmer et al., 2004). It is argued that both advertising of products aimed directly towards tweens and indirectly influencing the purchase decisions of parents (aka. ‘pester power’) could be unethical. The basic metaphor is that the children are ‘easy targets’, because of undeveloped cognitive skills (John, 1999). This has also resulted in some countries enforcing specific legislation on the use of TV-advertising in relation to children (Edmond, 2006), either selective bans or ‘voluntary’ industry based rules (for example by the food industry in Denmark, Forum for Fødevarereklamer, 2008).

In relation to younger age groups, it may even be a problem to distinguish between program content and advertising, but in the tweens segment almost all children are able to recognize advertising (Andersen, 2007; Guther and Furnham, 1998; John, 1999; McNeal, 1999; Palmer et al., 2004). Some authors claim that tweens are ‘ad-savvy’ children (Lindstrom, 2003) and could therefore be hypothesized to be just as appreciative of the advertising as of the actual program contents, regardless of their ability to distinguish between them. Other findings point to much less interest in advertising (Andersen, 2007; Chan and McNeal, 2002).

The Tween Concept

‘Tweens’ is a sub-teen consumer segment (Lindstrom and Seybold, 2003; Siegel et al., 2004). The segment is defined by age and the concept is based on the idea that these children are “in-be-tween” childhood and teen-hood (Cook and Kaiser, 2004; Siegel et al., 2004). Several terms exist in marketing research, e.g. “pre-teen”, “tweenie” or “tweenage” (Cook and Kaiser, 2004; Dibley and Baker, 2001; Grant and Stephen, 2005; Lindstrom, 2004; Siegel et al., 2004). Most commonly tweens are defined as 8-12-year-olds (Siegel et al., 2004). In the present article, we focus on the 10-12-year-olds, which we consider to be the older part of a tween segment ranging from 8-12 years of age, but the tween age span has several definitions, ranging from 8-14 years of age (Lindstrom, 2004) to as narrow as 11-12-year-olds (Dibley and Baker, 2001). The wide age span, in some definitions, is very problematic as the average 8-year-old is very different from the average 14-year-old (John, 1999). To the other extreme, some researchers have claimed that ‘tween’ is not an age but simply a state of mind (Siegel et al., 2004), although they do not take the full consequences of this point of view, as they also work with a simple demographic definition. It could even be hypothesized that the ‘tween state of mind’ and the age span may differ significantly across cultures or ethnicity, but the preconceptions in the literature stress the opposite: that tweens are a homogenous segment (Lindstrom, 2004; Lindstrom and Seybold, 2003; Siegel et al., 2004).

Tweens are not only considered to be powerful influencers of their parents’ consumption (aka. ‘pester power’), but also consumers with a considerable direct consumption of their own (Brzezinski, 2004; Lindstrom and Seybold, 2003; Siegel et al., 2004). Lindstrom (2004) argues that the global direct – and indirect – tweens’ consumption was no less than 1.18 trillion US dollars in 2003.

However, it is interesting that in general the concept of “tweens” has mainly been used in the marketing literature, as can be seen from the above references, which of course is due to the fact that marketers are very interested in new segments and new markets. In the 1950s the concept of “teenagers” was invented in order to reach the 13-19 year olds, and gradually this age group has come to consider themselves as “teenagers”. As far as the expression “tweens” is concerned it has not yet found its way into the vocabulary of the 8-12 year olds when they talk about themselves. At the time of writing, it is unlikely that a 10 year old girl would call herself a “tween” (but this may change). Among adults, however, there has been an increasing interest in “tweens as consumers”. This applies to advertisers and media specialists as well sociologists, psychologists, teachers, and parents. It should be emphasized, though, that these parties are motivated by different interests and perceptions of the child.

The Danish Media Scene and Children’s General Media Use

The two largest TV channels in Denmark is DR (Danmarks Radio) which is a public broadcasting organization and TV2, which are both a public service and a commercial channel. The average adult Dane watches television 2.5 hours on weekdays and 3.2 hours on weekends. 7-15-year-old children watch 1.5 hours of TV on average on weekdays and 2.4 hours in weekends. An interesting perspective is that there has been a slight increase in the viewing of the adult population whereas children watch less TV than some years ago (Bille et al., 2005). This is probably because there has been a tremendous growth of the Internet access in Danish families, leading to Internet media competing with TV. In 2006 83% of the Danish families had Internet access, and the percentage for families with children was 97% (Danmarks Statistik, 2007). Most of the 7-15-year-old children use the Internet in their leisure time. 28% use it almost every day and 22% use it several times a week (Bille et al., 2005). They use the Internet for playing computer games, but many also seek information, e-mail, chat, and surf (ibid.). This trend is very much in accordance with the results of a comparative study of the 12-18-year-olds’ use of the Internet and of mobile phones in 9 different European countries in 2005-2006 ( Among the Danes in this age group, 89% said that they used the Internet every day or several times a week, whereas the use of the Internet in school was just 33% (ibid). Compared with Hong Kong tweens, Danish tweens were more likely to use mobile phone and the Internet for interpersonal communication and enjoyment than Hong Kong tweens (Andersen et. al., 2007).

Conception of Children and Childhood in Denmark

Since the 1980s there has been a general change of attitude moving away from considering the ‘child as vulnerable’ to a conception of the ‘child as a competent actor’ in his/her own life. Inspired by the theory of Jean Piaget, the child was previously perceived as an insufficient, vulnerable being that gradually – with assistance from teachers and parents – develop into a competent grown-up person: a concept defining the child as a “social becoming”. Recently, social interaction and negotiation between child and adults have been brought into focus. This contemporary childhood sociology is to a large extent based on the research of British sociologists (James, Jenks and Prout, 1998). In this kind of research, the child is perceived as a competent actor, a “social being” (Alanen, 2000; Brembeck, Johansson and Kampmann, 2004). As expressed by Jan Kampmann: “The childhood research has been wrested from the iron grip of developmental psychology in which it has been kept” (Tufte et al, 2003).

This development has influenced parents’ and teachers’ approach to children. Different themes are negotiated with children that would never have been a topic for discussion previously, and the Danish family in general is called “a family of negotiation” (Gram, 2005). Accordingly, the modern culture of individualism is moderated in Danish families where the ‘tween’ child is viewed very much as an individual to treat with respect, a natural partner in family decisions and a social being in its own right.

Hong Kong School System and Leisure Time

Chinese societies place strong emphasis on education. Hong Kong children attend kindergarten from the age of three. The government provides nine years of free education (six years of primary education plus three years of secondary education) for children from the age of 6 to 15. After the age of 15, students need to take public examinations at around 17 and 19 again to compete for places in the public universities (Hong Kong SAR Government, 2004). The educational system in Hong Kong has been criticized for being examination-oriented, passive and “spoon-feeding”, and for lacking creativity (Children’s Council Working Committee, 2005). Because of the highly competitive educational environment, parents put a lot of emphasis on children’s academic performance. A survey indicated that 47 percent of children of school age received private tuition at home or at educational institutions outside school hours. The average time they spent on tutorial lessons after school was 4.8 hours a week (Children’s Council Working Committee, 2005).

With high pressures of studies, Hong Kong children enjoy very little leisure time. A recent survey of primary and secondary school children and youth in Hong Kong found that watching television, playing computer games or surfing on the Internet at home was the most common ways of spending leisure time (Children’s Council Working Committee, 2005).

The Hong Kong Media Scene and Children’s Media Usage

Hong Kong is rich in telecommunication and new media. With a population of 6.9 million, it has more than 3.8 million fixed telephone lines and 8.7 million mobile phone subscribers (125 percent of the population) (Office of the Telecommunications Authority, 2006). Broadband coverage reaches nearly all commercial buildings and households. More than two thirds of households reported that they have personal computers with Internet connection (Census and Statistics Department, 2007).

Two companies provide free domestic television programming services in Hong Kong, including Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) and Asia Television Limited (ATV). According to the television licensing conditions, terrestrial television stations must broadcast definite number of hours of children’s and public affairs’ programs. Children’s programs are scheduled for around 9 to 11 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays, as well as on Saturdays and Sundays. Most of the programs are cartoon series imported from Japan and the U.S. Sixty percent of households in Hong Kong subscribe to Cable television. The Cable TV has a children channel and a Cartoon Network channel.

There is no public broadcasting channel in Hong Kong. Radio and Television Hong Kong (RTHK), a governmental department, is an editorially independent broadcaster that aims at providing quality programs to inform, educate and entertain the people of Hong Kong (Hong Kong SAR Government, 2004). RTHK's television programs are broadcasted on domestic free channels as well as cable television channels. Most of the programs produced by RTHK are documentaries, talk shows and current affairs. RTHK does not produce children’s programs on a regular basis, although some of their programs may appeal to children.

Most of the children in Hong Kong spend two to four hours a day watching television (Hong Kong Christian Service, 2002). This may be attributable to lack of outdoor activities in the crowded urban life. Hong Kong children watch a lot more television during school holidays. In the evening, children watch many television programs for adults. There are not many radio programs for children, and there are no newspapers specifically for children, though a few major papers have daily children’s sections or columns. Some of the magazines, such as Yellow Bus and Milk, are published specially for children and teenagers. The contents of children magazines are mainly cartoons while the contents of youth magazines are mainly features about fashion, beauty, movies, and trendy electronic goods.

Compared with Danish tweens, Hong Kong tweens are more likely to use the internet for educational purposes than Danish tweens (Andersen et. al., 2007).

Conception of Children and Childhood in Hong Kong

Influenced by the Confucianism, the family interaction in Chinese societies shares the characteristics of parental control, strict discipline, emphasis on education, filial piety, respect for seniors, avoidance of conflicts, and family obligations (Chao, 1983; Glenn, 1983; Ho, 1981). A survey found that Chinese and immigrant Chinese parents in the U.S. tend to rate parental control, encouragement of independence and emphasis on achievement higher than Caucasian-American parents do (Lin, 1990). Another qualitative study has found that parent-child relationship in Hong Kong is a hybridized and evolving relationship with constant negotiations between hierarchy and equality, obedience and disobedience with quarrels as well as praise and spank (Luk-Fong, 2005). This seems to imply that parents perceive children on one-hand vulnerable and needing guidance, but on the other hand competent and able to make independent choices. This view is also reflected in the public attitudes toward children’s advertising. A survey of Hong Kong adults in 2002 found that 50 percent reported a neutral attitude toward the statement: “Television advertising takes undue advantage of children”, while 25 percent agreed and 25 percent disagreed (Chan, 2006a). Each year, the Broadcasting Authority in Hong Kong received about 1,000 to 2,000 complaints about television commercials. Most of the complaints are about the contents of the commercials being scary to children, or inappropriate for children (Chan, 2006b). This indicates that in Hong Kong, children are seen as vulnerable in the eyes of the adults, especially parents.

Table 1 summarizes the key differences between media usage and conception of childhood in Denmark and Hong Kong.


Denmark and Hong Kong are both rather small and homogeneous areas at an advanced stage of technological development. Advertising to children is allowed in both societies. Denmark is more advanced than Hong Kong in terms of economic development. Per capita GDP of Denmark in 2002 was 28 percent higher than that of Hong Kong (US$ 30,940 vs. US$ 24,121).


The two societies are different cultures, though some of the literature on tweens mentioned above claim that tween culture is globally much more homogenous than that of their parents. In Hofstede’s (1980) theory of cultural dimensions, national culture differs in terms of the relationship between the individual and the collective group. Hofstedes work is not based on tweens, but it may still be hypothesised that tween culture resembles the culture that the individual tween is embedded within. In an individualistic society, ties between individuals are loose and all are expected to take care of themselves. In a collective society, individuals are subject to strong societal norms, and collective goals take priority over personal goals. In Hofstede (1980) Denmark is ranked higher than Hong Kong in terms of individualism (score 74 vs. 25). Individualistic societies put more emphasis on individual variety and pleasure (Hofstede, 1984). We therefore advance the following two hypotheses:

H1: Danish tweens are more likely to spend money for fun, pleasure, and self expression than tweens in Hong Kong.

H2: Danish tweens are more likely to emphasise the entertainment function of advertising than Hong Kong tweens.

It is expected that people in collectivistic societies will be more tolerant and passive towards of the social influence of advertising. We therefore propose the following hypothesis:

H3: Hong Kong tweens are more likely to accept the influence of advertising than Danish tweens.

And consequently, in an individualistic society, members are more likely to be negative towards the social influence of advertising, even to the degree of actively avoiding persuasive communications:

H4: Danish tweens are more likely to exhibit behavior of actively avoiding advertising.

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