Effects of Teenagers’ Internet Motivations and Leisure Activities on Trust, Attitude and Use of Advertising


By Sara Steffes Hansen and James Tsao

WJMCR 22 (July 2010)

Introduction|Literature Review|Research Questions|Methods|Results|Conclusions||Limitations and Future Research|


This study explores teen lifestyles, depicted through psychographic variables of Internet motivations and leisure activities, for impact on advertising trust, attitude and uses for purchase decisions. Data from 437 teenagers were analyzed with factor analyses and hierarchical regressions. Online motivations to social network predicted trust and use of advertising. Activities of newspaper/magazine reading, music and partying predicted favorable attitudes and uses. Teens that relaxed as a leisure activity were more skeptical of advertising and did not use it for purchase decisions.


Advertising messages and media vehicles aimed at American teens consider this segment’s lifestyles that increasingly incorporate the Internet. Teens avidly use the Internet, and frequently multitask with online activities and traditional media, such as television, print and videogames. The Pew Internet and American Life Project reports 93% of youth aged 12-17 using the Internet as of 2006, of which 61% are online daily.1About 64% of these online teens create web content – art, stories, photos, videos, web pages and blogs – and 55% have created online profiles on a social network site such as Facebook or MySpace.2 In 2009, young people aged 8 to 18 consumed 7.5 hours of different media each day, which reaches 10.75 hours when factoring in multitasking, up from 2004 levels of 6.5 hours per day of media, or 8.5 hours via multi-tasking.3

Just as multi-tasking and technology use distinguish teen lifestyles of the millennial generation, born between 1982 and 2002, so too do predispositions to consumerism that started with a tripling of purchases of childhood products during the 1990s.4 Today’s teens grew up as consumers more so than other generations and receive marketing messages at rapid pace through multiple media vehicles, stoking marketer fears that this group is numb to advertising or, at best, paying half attention thanks to multi-tasking.5 As well, advocates note vulnerability to these messages for today’s young people based on their advertising knowledge and attitudes.
This study explores predispositions for advertising trust, attitudes and uses grounded in aspects of the teen lifestyle, as depicted in Internet motivations and leisure activities. Demographics and consumption implications are components of advertising attitude studies among adults that span recent decadesand similar limited studies of teens.8 Recent studies have extended this approach to include psychographics, which can help segment groups through activities, interests and opinions (AIOs) considered independently or collectively.9 Psychographics has profiled Internet users,10 and segmented groups via advertising attitudes related to general lifestyle and attitude11 and personality traits.12 Psychographic variables such as Internet motivations and leisure activities may segment teens as receptive or vulnerable to particular advertising messages and media vehicles. 
The Internet is increasingly incorporated into teen lives,13 with strong links evident between their activities and Internet behaviors.14 And, research on teens as budding consumers is scarce.15 This study is significant because it links teen activities and behaviors to their advertising predispositions – providing insights on segmenting teens for media planning and advertising content, while identifying drivers of those predispositions based on the millennials’ lifestyles for ongoing study.

Literature Review

An overview of advertising trust, attitudes and uses among adults and teens, primarily in the U.S., demonstrates general advertising views. Some of these studies incorporate psychographics, which connects these aspects of people’s relationships with advertising or media usage to their activities, interests and opinions. The psychographic approach is outlined to show how the teen relationship with advertising may be affected by online motivations and leisure activities. Supporting this approach are recent studies of how the Internet’s prevalence in the daily lives of teens connects with activities and lifestyle traits – online and offline – that may segment teens related to advertising predispositions.

Advertising Trust, Attitudes and Uses
Studies of general advertising attitudes in the United States consistently include trust as a central component.16 Recent research that systematically studied the concept of trust found variances in trust as distinctive from, or intertwined with, credibility and general advertising attitudes.17 Trust has related to believability of advertising in general, as an antecedent of attitude within the construct of advertising credibility.18 In broad U.S. studies, adults may feel mistrust toward advertising in general, yet believe ads about experienced products.19 As such, trust may serve as an informational benefit toward general advertising attitudes20.

Attitudes emerging from large national surveys of adults revealed mixed opinions about advertising as a general concept in the 1960s21 and increasingly negative views in the 1970s.22 Since then, Mittal23reported unfavorable attitudes, with a majority of respondents disliking television advertising, characterizing half of it as deceptive, boring and annoying. Favorable attitudes also have been reported. Higher levels of liking advertising, despite low trust of advertising, aided confidence in advertising information positively related to use for buying decisions.24

Trust has also served as a factor in believability of advertising to determine general attitudes of teens.25Past research has studied teen attitudes toward advertising in terms of affective orientations of liking or disliking advertising and trust or skepticism toward it. In the 1970s, weak connections of attitude and trust with consumer behavior and explanatory variables emerged in teen studies.26 Younger and female teens expressed more favorable views of advertising.27 In the 1990s, middle school students showed generally high levels of skepticism toward television advertising – measured in terms of advertiser motives and varying trust levels among advertisements – that associated with mature understandings of advertising tactics.28 High school teens depicted skepticism based on disbelief of claims and mistrust of advertisement motives influenced by consumer socialization agents – parents, peers and television exposure.29 Australian high school and university students expressed neutral to positive attitudes that aligned with characteristics and lifestyle.30

An important aspect of trust and attitude toward advertising is their potential effect on advertising uses related to purchase behavior. More favorable attitudes toward advertising can increase recall for a higher number of advertisements and experiencing persuasion with trust of advertising contributing to buying interest.31 General advertising attitudes may segment groups by demographic or psychographic antecedents of attitudes, based on usage of advertising to make purchases and views of regulation for society’s benefit.32 Further, less favorable attitudes toward advertising, such as irritation, and more favorable attitudes in terms of trust, such as use for purchase decisions, have varied with levels of involvement with advertising.33

Limited past teen studies found use of advertising for purchase decisions varying with products and affected by life stage. For example, teens rely less on advertising and more on peers when price, performance and social acceptance are of low priority.34 Younger teens’ skepticism can be tied to disbelief of claims and awareness of advertiser intentions that ultimately relate to persuasion toward purchase.35 Older teens who seek conformity with peers to build self-esteem and/or gain reward or escape punishment show less skepticism of advertising and its portrayals in the marketplace.36 Qualitative findings of British college students showed informational uses of advertising regarding product availability, price, choice and help in decision-making.37 Further, seeking information from advertising may vary with characteristics or lifestyles of young people; when profiled into cluster groups based on these qualities, “homebodies” or “social sophisticates” use television, magazines and newspapers more than “mavericks” or “armchair athletes.”38

These pre-2000 studies of teen uses significantly focused on television advertising and exposure.39 In recent years, teen attention to forms of advertising media has shifted with diverse media choices. Kaiser Family Foundation research found television, live or digitally recorded, makes up more than four hours daily media use for 15 to 18 year olds, in addition to 3 hours for music, 2.5 hours on computers and about 1 hour spent playing videogames. Similarly, this study found that 11 to 14 year olds spend 5 hours daily with TV content, with 2.5 hours for music, 1.75 hours for computers and 1.5 hours for videogames. 40Consuming integrated media choices, such as visiting web sites related to television or music heard on the radio, is prevalent among teens and may be reflected in the web content that they create.41 Livingstone argues that exposure to new media is supplemental to overall media choices for young people experiencing changes in interests and lifestyles with age and experiences.42 Traditional teen publications’ responses to this new media mix include CosmoGirl and Vogue expanding into Internet and mobile technologies “for their titles, and their advertisers, to reach them in a variety of venues.”43

Overall attitudes toward advertising provide insights into how Americans, and teens specifically, view advertising. Importantly, these attitudes relate to responses to advertising and uses for purchase decisions. Psychographics, in terms of online motivations and lifestyle activities, may aid understanding of such advertising predispositions for certain segments within the teen audience. 

Online Motivations and Lifestyle Activities in Psychographics

Lifestyle or leisure activities make up one component of psychographics, a research tradition with varying definitions and conceptualizations since its origination in the 1960s.44 Defined by an early theorist, Emanuel H. Demby, psychographics entails “the use of psychological, sociological and anthropological factors, such as benefits desired (from the behavior being studied), self-concept, and lifestyle (or serving style) to determine how the market is segmented by the propensity of groups within the market – and their reasons – to make a particular decision about a product, person, ideology, or otherwise hold an attitude or use a medium.”45

Psychographic variables emerge from three classifications: product attributes (values, perceptions, quality, benefits, trust); lifestyle attributes (daily life in psychological, sociological or anthropological terms); and psychological attributes (why people do what they do, how a person sees the self or type of person he or she is).46 Disagreement among researchers and practitioners in the field surrounding the lifestyle concept resulted in conflicting perspectives. In Weinstein’s47 overview, psychographics independently reference lifestyle or personality or values but collectively combine them for more meaningful market intelligence. Alternatively, Gunter and Furnham48 viewed psychographics as personality traits, and lifestyle separate from a person’s activities, interests and opinions (AIOs).

AIOs offer measurable data to be considered independently or with other variables on the psychographic scale. An activity is a manifest action (hobbies, social activities, shopping, entertainment); an interest is the degree of enthusiasm toward an object, event or topic (family, fashion, media, community); and an opinion is a response to a raised question (the self, politics, education, culture).49 Researchers have used lifestyle psychographics, specifically referencing leisure activities, to understand media usage. Leisure activities contributed to psychographic profiles of Internet users, regarding amounts or types of usage.50 Other aspects of psychographics studied relate to attitude toward advertising, such as general lifestyle and attitude51 and personality traits.52

Considering psychographics, teen activities and interests appear to connect to Internet behaviors and may vary with their motivations to use particular media. In 2000, U.S. teens chose the Internet for conducting research (82%) or working on homework (66%), but otherwise chose television for entertainment (67%) or leisure (36%).53 Several years later, findings showed U.S. teens integrating the Internet in their lives related to entertainment and leisure.54 Characteristics and lifestyle traits may affect media preferences. The frequency of spending time on the Internet and amount of time spent online is significantly different for “mavericks” and “armchair athletes.”55

Teens highly use the Internet, integrated with traditional media usage56 and offline activities.57 Teens use real-world depictions of personality or interests – such as sports, films, religion, games or music – in IM content and avatars,58 blog postings,59 e-mail and chat-rooms.60 Psychographic activities may help explore advertising attitudes and consumer behavior.

Research Questions

As the frameworks of the past studies suggest, three broad aspects of advertising attitudes were considered independently: trust of advertising in general, attitude toward advertising from multiple media sources and uses of advertising for making purchase decisions.61 Advertising attitudes could be influenced by psychographic variables related to online motivations and leisure activities,62 such as music interests or favorite television programs that might be a leisure activity to enjoy as well as a motivation to go on the Internet for downloads or related information. Just as offline activities can dovetail with online activities, they can contribute to psychographic profiling of online media use.63 Online motivations specific to teens may range from social engagement with friends or new people, to getting information, playing videogames or having fun, while leisure activities may vary from time spent listening to music to hanging out with friends to watching TV, movies or sports.64
For the first question, we considered how overall trust levels teens feel toward advertising may be influenced by reasons they go online. Internet experiences may include advertising exposure, and contribute to how teens perceive subsequent advertising from offline media, or advertising that integrates among multiple media sources to form trust. Past studies found television exposure influenced teen advertising trust levels.65 Internet exposure is interactive and dictated more by user choices – making online motivations and lifestyles that influence Internet activities both potentially impacting advertising trust.

RQ1: How may teenager trust levels of advertising be explained by their motives to go online and leisure activities?

For the second question, we delved into how multiple advertising experiences online and offline, and potentially integrated by marketers across media sources, may affect advertising opinions.66 For example, a teen searching the Internet may see more targeted advertising thanks to terms entered in the search engine based on specific motivations or lifestyle interests, compared to a teen watching mass advertising during primetime television. Different media sources may elicit different opinions, but combined they may serve as a basis of general attitudes toward advertising.

RQ2: How may teenager attitudes toward media advertising be explained by their motives to go online and leisure activities?

For the third question, we considered the use of advertising as an attitude aspect and predictor of consumer behavior related to motivations for chosen Internet content and leisure activities that may contribute to those motivations.67 Teens may be motivated to go online to participate in a favorite activity, find out about a product or social network with their friends, and in turn, develop utility related to experienced advertising. If leisure activities tie in with their online motivations, such as chatting with new people on a social network site about music interests, their use of online advertising, perhaps in tandem with offline advertising, may be heightened or lessened.

RQ3: How may teenager uses of media advertising to make purchase decisions be explained by their motives to go online and leisure activities?



Eight high and three middle schools in a Midwestern state participated in an exploratory survey in 2004, from which data was gathered for 437 teenagers as a convenience sample. After approval from principals and teachers, consent forms and survey questionnaires were mailed to the schools for dissemination to students. Teachers distributed the consent forms and collected the self-administered survey questionnaires completed in class. Respondents were informed that their participation was voluntary and their responses would be held confidentially and used only for research. The sample was 46% male and 54% female. About 14% of the respondents were 13 years old; 8% were 14 years old; 10% were 15 years old; 22% were 16 years old; nearly 35% were 17 years old; and 12% were 18 years old.

Operations of Dependent Variables

This study includes three dependent variables, two related to attitude – teens’ trust of advertising and attitude toward different forms of media advertising – and one related to behavior, the frequency of use of different forms of advertising to make purchase decisions. To measure trust, respondents were asked “How do you feel about this statement, ‘In general, I trust what advertisements are telling me.’ ” This approach aligns with the believability of advertiser claims measure of Boush et al.68 Responses were reported on a 5-point Likert scale of “Disagree,” “Somewhat Disagree,” “Neutral,” “Somewhat Agree” and “Agree.” Results showed a mean of 3.38, with a standard deviation of 1.05.

To measure teen attitudes toward different forms of advertising, we asked respondents to provide their evaluations of eight types of media advertising including billboards, direct mail, in-store ads, Internet, magazines, newspapers, radio and television. A 6-point scale including “Very Poor,” “Poor,” “Good/Poor,” “Good,” “Very Good” and “Don’t Use” was used. The category of “Don’t Use” was excluded from the data analysis. Teen attitudes to the eight types of media advertising are significantly correlated from one to another (r-coefficients range from .10 to .43; p values range from < .001 to < .05). Thus, a composite score of the evaluation for all eight forms of advertising is computed as the dependent variable, attitude toward advertising.

To study the frequency of different forms of advertising usage, we asked respondents, “How often do you use advertising in the following places to make a purchasing decision?” Media advertising included billboards, direct mail, in-store ads, Internet, magazines, newspapers, radio and television. The responses were measured by frequency of usage on a 5-point scale, including “Never,” “Rarely,” “Sometimes,” “Often,” and “Always.” Teens’ use of the eight types of media advertising was significantly correlated from one to another (r-coefficients range from .17 to .48; p values < .001). A composite score of usage for all eight forms of advertising became the dependent variable, frequency of advertising usage.

Operations of Independent Variables

There are three groups of independent variables in the study, including motives to go online, leisure activities and demographics. The two dependent variables, attitude toward advertising and frequency of usage of advertising, were included as two additional independent variables in the analysis to answer the second research question. The demographics include age and gender. Gender was recoded as a dummy variable, while “0” was coded as female and “1” was coded as male. Number of siblings was added as another demographic variable. Siblings are suggested as playing a role in family effects of consumer socialization for children and teens, with separate effects from siblings versus parents69 as demonstrated in a related study.70 Siblings also are found to be of separate and direct influence on young people’s Internet behaviors.71

Motives to go online, also on a 5-point scale of strongly disagree to strongly agree, reflect how the Internet fulfills needs for teens72 and coincides with frequent teen activities reported online.73 Categories for these 19 motive variables include seeking information, shopping, new online experiences, peer interaction, gaming, distraction, fun and excitement. A principal component factor analysis with Varimax rotations identified different segments of teenagers’ motives to go online. The 19 variables yielded five main factors that contributed to the motives of teens to use the Internet.
Statistical Procedures
Three hierarchical multiple regression analyses measured the relationship between independent variables and the three dependent variables, teens’ trust of advertising, attitude toward media advertising and uses of media advertising. Respondent demographics including age, gender and number of siblings were entered in the first block as control variables in all regression analyses. Variables extracted from factor analyses representing motives to go online and leisure activities are independent variables entered into the second and third blocks respectively. Teens’ trust of advertising and their uses of media advertising were entered as two additional independent variables in the fourth block to measure the relationship with teens’ opinions toward media advertising.


The independent variables of online motives and leisure activities were grouped into several factors before research questions were answered in multiple hierarchical regressions. Table 1 shows factors of online motives including Entertainment (going online for enjoyment, habit, fun, or out of boredom; Eigenvalues = 6.23;% of Variance = 32.8), Technology (going online to check out new Web sites, play games, see the latest technology, and see what’s out there; Eigenvalues = 1.92;% of Variance = 10.11), Social-network (going online because they like to gossip and talk to friends; Eigenvalues = 1.48;% of Variance = 7.81), Loneliness (going online because of loneliness and distraction; Eigenvalues = 1.18;% of Variance = 6.19), and Research (going online for homework and information gathering; Eigenvalues = 1.11;% of Variance = 5.83).

Table 1

Factor Analysis of Motives to Go Online*

I go online because…LoadingsMean
Factor 1: Entertainment  
  It’s enjoyable.0.823.68
  It’s fun.0.803.96
  It’s a habit.0.733.20
  I’m bored.0.543.88
Factor 2: Technology  
  I like to see the latest technology.0.822.76
  I like to see what’s there.0.783.19
  I like to play games.0.643.54
  I like to check out new websites.0.623.32
Factor 3: Social-network  
  I like to gossip.0.792.93
  I like to talk to friends.0.764.15
Factor 4: Loneliness  
  I’m lonely.0.752.19
  It’s a distraction.0.732.63
Factor 5: Research  
  I can do homework.0.793.57
  I can easily gather information.0.734.10

* The cut-off scores on factor analysis for retained variables are >.4 on one factor and <.3 on other factors. Responses were measured on a 5-point Likert scale. Motives excluded from the results due to low factor loadings are “I like to buy products online,” “I like to meet new people,” “It excites me,” “It takes me to another world,” and “It relaxes me.”

Leisure activities incorporate online and offline ways that teens spend their “free time,” also within the measure of a 5-point scale of never to very often. The mix of offline and online activities reflects past research findings.74 The range of 18 variables included peer and family socialization measures, such as parties or spending time at home; interest measures, such as hobbies, religious activities and volunteering; to media choices, such as surfing the Internet, watching TV or gaming. A principal component factor analysis with Varimax rotations was conducted to extract factors. Table 2 shows that leisure activities reveal six factors out of 18 variables. The factors include Actives (Eigenvalues = 2.89;% of Variance = 16.98), Sports Fans/Players (Eigenvalues = 2.08;% of Variance = 12.24), News Readers/Music Listeners (Eigenvalues = 1.83;% of Variance = 10.78), Partiers (Eigenvalues= 1.45;% of Variance = 8.52), TV/Movie Viewers (Eigenvalues = 1.14;% of Variance = 6.70), and Relaxers (Eigenvalues = 1.03;% of Variance = 6.07).

Table 2         

Factor Analysis of Leisure Activities*

What do you do during your free time?LoadingsMean
Factor 1: Actives  
  Participate in religious activities0.691.92
Factor 2: Sports fans/players  
  Play sports0.803.48
  Watch spectator sports0.722.87
Factor 3: News readers/music listeners  
  Listen to music0.713.94
  Read magazines/newspapers0.712.94
Factor 4: Partiers  
  Go to parties0.793.38
  Spend time with friends0.754.21
Factor 5: TV/movie viewers  
  Watch movies0.753.52
  Watch TV0.833.67
Factor 6: Relaxers  

* The cut-off scores on factor analysis for retained variables are >.4 on one factor and <.3 on other factors. Responses were measured on a 5-point Likert scale. Activities excluded from the results due to low factor loadings are “do hobbies,” “go shopping,” “play video/computer games,” “read books,” “study/do homework,” and “spend time with family.”

RQ1: How may teenager trust levels of advertising be explained by their motives to go online and leisure activities? Table 3 shows that age (? = -.10; p < .08) and gender (? = .11; p < .06) in the first block of the regression analysis were marginally significant while the first equation was not significant. (p=.09) The second equation, including demographic variables and the motives to go online, made significant changes to the values of probability [F(288) = 2.53; p < .01] and coefficients (R2 = .07). Gender was not quite significant (? = .11; p < .08), while the factors of motives to go online for Technology (? = .14; p < .05) and Social Network (? = .19; p < .01) both positively predicted teens’ trust of advertising.

In the full model, the results showed that four variables significantly explained teens’ trust of advertising, while two other variables were marginally significant. The four significant variables included going online for Social Networking (? = .14; p < .05), Sports Fans/Players (? = .13; p < .05), TV/Movie Viewers (? = .11; p < .05) and Relaxers (? = -.12; p < .05). The first three variables were positively related to the dependent variable, while Relaxers (relaxing for leisure) depicted a negative relationship to trust. One marginally significant variable was the motive to go online for Technology (? = .12; p < .07). The full model accounted for .11 of the total variance, which increased the variance by 4% from the previous equation [F(282) = 2.34; p < .01].

Table 3

Hierarchical Regressions of Demographics, Motives to Go Online and Leisure Activities on Teenagers’ Trust of Advertising

Predictors         Model 1Model 2Model 3
Intercept3.77 ***2.39 **1.99 *
  Age-0.07-0.10#-0.04-0.05 -0.02-0.03 
  Number of siblings-0.01-0.01 0.000.00 -0.01-0.01 
Motives to go online         
  Entertainment   -0.02-0.06 -0.01-0.05 
  Technology   0.040.14*0.04.12#
  Loneliness   -0.03-0.05 -0.02-0.04 
  Research   0.000.01 0.00-0.01 
  Social-network   0.090.19**0.070.14*
Leisure activities         
  Sports fans/players      0.060.13*
  Actives      0.000.00 
  TV/movie viewers      0.070.11*
  News readers   /music listeners      -0.02-0.03 
  Partiers      0.000.01 
  Relaxers      -0.13-0.12*
R2 0.02# 0.07** 0.11**
F 2.17  2.53  2.38 
#p <.10, *p <.05, **p <.01, ***p <.001

RQ2: How may teenager attitudes toward media advertising be explained by their motives to go online and leisure activities? Table 4 shows that gender significantly contributed to the first and second equation, but it was insignificant in the rest of the regression models. None of the motives to go online significantly predicted the relationship with teen opinions toward advertising. The third equation yielded two significant variables, News Readers/Music Lovers (? = .24; p < .001) and Partiers (? = .22; p < .001). Both variables continued to be significant in the full model at the level of p < .05. Joining the list of significant variables in the full model were teens’ trust of advertising (? = .14; p < .05) and uses of advertising (? = .41; p < .001). The full model provided 35% of variance [F(219) = 7.40; p < .001], which increased 16% from the last equation.

Table 4

Hierarchical Regressions of Demographics, Motives to Go Online and Leisure Activities on Teenagers’ Opinions Toward Media Advertising

PredictorsModel 1Model 2Model 3Model 4
Intercept30.37 ***22.08 ***15.33 ***10.24 *
  Age-0.16-0.05 -0.04-0.01 -0.04-0.01 0.120.04 
  Gender-1.76-0.19***-1.72-0.18**-0.71-0.07 -0.41-0.04 
  Number of  siblings0.360.10 0.370.11#0.300.09 0.150.04 
Motives to go online            
  Entertainment   0.080.06 0.000.00 0.050.03 
  Technology   0.160.12#0.120.09 0.070.05 
  Loneliness   -0.20-0.08 -0.09-0.04 -0.09-0.04 
  Research   0.200.09 0.130.06 -0.02-0.01 
  Social-network   0.280.12#0.190.08 0.000.00 
Leisure activities            
  Sports   fans/players      0.000.00 -0.16-0.07 
  Actives      -0.09-0.03 -0.09-0.03 
  TV/movie  viewers      0.100.03 0.000.00 
  News readers   /music listeners      0.710.24***0.460.15*
  Partiers      0.680.22***0.450.14*
  Relaxers      -0.39-0.08 -0.04-0.01 
Attitudes & uses of media ad            
  Trust of ad         0.630.14*
  Use of ad         0.350.41***
R2 0.05** 0.11** 0.19*** 0.35***
F 4.23  3.51  3.65  7.40 
#p <.10, *p <.05, **p <.01, ***p <.001

RQ3: How may teenager uses of media advertising to make purchase decisions be explained by their motives to go online and leisure activities? Table 5 shows that both gender and number of siblings significantly contributed to the first and second equation of the relationship for teens’ uses of media advertising to make purchase decisions. Being male and having more siblings predicted more frequent usage of media advertising to make purchase decisions. The second equation also included two significant variables, going online to Research (? = .18; p < .001) and Social Network (? = .24; p < .001).

The full model provided six significant variables and one marginally significant variable explaining the relationship with teens’ uses of media advertising. The variables were the number of siblings (? = .15; p < .01), going online to Research (? = .14; p < .05), going online to Social Network (? = .17; p < .01), News/Music Lovers (? = .23; p < .001), Partiers (? = .18; p < .001) and Relaxers (? = -.17; p < .001). Sports Fans/Players (? = .10; p < .10) was marginally significant in the model. All of the significant variables showed a positive relationship with the dependent variable except Relaxing, which negatively explained teens’ uses of media advertising. In other words, the more time spent relaxing, the less likely teens were to use different forms of media advertising to help make purchase decisions.

Table 5

Hierarchical Regressions of Demographics, Motives to Go Online and Leisure Activities on Teenagers’ Use of Advertising

PredictorsModel 1Model 2Model 3
Intercept23.82 ***12.24 ***3.26  
  Age-0.16-0.04 -0.05-0.01 0.010.00 
  Number of siblings0.500.12*0.680.16***0.620.15**
Motives to go online         
  Entertainment   -0.10-0.06 -0.16-0.10 
  Technology   0.120.07 0.040.02 
  Loneliness   -0.08-0.03 0.090.03 
  Research   0.490.18***0.370.14*
  Social-network   0.640.24***0.460.17**
Leisure activities         
  Sports fans/players      0.260.10#
  Actives      0.190.05 
  TV/movie viewers      0.270.08 
  News readers   /music listeners      0.810.23***
  Partiers      0.670.18***
  Relaxers      -0.96-0.17***
R2 0.04* 0.14*** 0.24***
F 3.55  5.71  6.22 
#p <.10, *p <.05, **p <.01, ***p <.001


These exploratory findings demonstrate teen trust, attitude and uses related to advertising as predicted by online motivations and leisure activities. Table 6 shows significant variables across the three full models. Psychographic segmentation of teens based on these motivations and activities may contribute to our understanding of effects related to teen use of the Internet, as well as to advertising and marketing targeting this age group. Further, this segmentation can lead toward better understanding of teen consumer behavior, particularly with the pervasiveness of the Internet in their lives.

Table 6

Significant Results of Full Models of Hierarchical Regressions

PredictorsTrust of AdvertisingOpinions Toward AdvertisingUse of Advertising
  Number of siblings  **
Motives to go online   
  Research  *
  Social-network* **
Leisure activities   
  Sports fans/players* #
  TV/movie viewers*  
  News readers/music listeners ****
  Partiers ****
  Relaxers* ***
Attitudes & use of media ad   
  Trust of advertisingNot applied*Not applied
  Use of advertisingNot applied***Not applied

^ Results were extracted from the full models of Tables 3-5.

#p <.10, *p <.05, **p <.01, ***p <.001

Online Motivations

Teens that go online to social network appear to be more trusting of advertising (Table 3) and more likely to use advertising to make purchase decisions (Table 5). These findings suggest that social networkers – teens more active in using the Internet for gossip and maintaining friendships – are more apt to believe advertising messages but also use this information to choose particular products or brands. These findings may occur because advertising becomes part of the shared online social experience or conversation among teen friends. Trust among friends in online social networks may contribute to trust in advertising. Products and brands advertised online in blatant or subtle ways happen in the critical context of social networks, perhaps inspiring purchase behavior.

Online friendships today frequently involve social network sites, such as Facebook or MySpace, in use by 55% of online young people ages 12-17.75 Further, according to this Pew data, 91% use social networking sites to keep in touch with friends they see frequently offline, 72% make plans with friends on the sites and 48% check the sites daily or more often. Advertising spending in 2009 related to social network sites is estimated at $1.2 billion in the U.S., including $335 million for Facebook and $465 million for MySpace, and a total $2.2 billion worldwide.76 For advertisers, these research findings support the growing investment in online social networking via advertisements and brand presence. Advertising messages on these sites can rely on trust or social fun, such as trying a new product and sharing information with a network of friends. As well, a brand presence on a social network site – such as a brand connecting with fans through a presence on Facebook – offers teens a new way to socially interact with an advertiser related to a brand or a product. This form of social interaction with a brand or advertiser happens within a context of online socializing with friends. Based on findings of trust and uses, these interactions may be especially meaningful for the active social networkers, compared to teens with other online motivations. While this effect could aid advertising campaigns, it also speaks to potential vulnerabilities for teens positively predisposed to advertising messages in this context and less skeptical of advertising intentions.

Advertising promotional features, such as instant offers or coupons, can build on teen uses of advertising. Campaign components could be extended to relate to sites or frequent links within online social networks, to further leverage appeals to this segment. Cases in point are social-network and text-message methods for viral marketing, a form of word-of-mouth advertising, to spread brand or product information. Great success or failure may come from marketing investment in viral marketing campaigns.77 The social-network segment may be predisposed to spread advertising messages particularly if they appeal to their emotions and social connections as found in a U.S. adult study.78 Campaign components are not limited to online methods as appeals to social network predispositions may happen offline with social networking integrated into other media vehicles, like product placement in films, advertisements in television or promotions in magazines.

Teens motivated to go online for research purposes also are more likely to use advertising to make purchase decisions (Table 5). These teens make use of the Internet for working on homework or getting convenient access to information unrelated to school assignments. Because of this research orientation toward the Internet, these teens use advertising information in purchase decisions. Further, online researchers, unlike the social networkers, do not display a trusting orientation toward advertising.

Online researchers may expect more thorough advertising information or to use such information along with other sources in making purchase decisions. The Internet is a primary information source for these teens, pertinent to school assignments, personal interests and product choices. Advertising messages are useful to these teens, and worthwhile to use as an information source particularly within the context of researching a product. Implications for advertisers include offering this segment extensive advertising information on the Internet to support purchase and offset less trust toward advertiser messages exhibited by this group. Additional credibility of advertised products and brands can be supported through public relations communications that demonstrate lived-out advertising claims readily found on unrelated web pages.

Advertisers of products that are likely to be the subject of teen research among different brands should consider online advertising that appears alongside competitor or product category web pages, for example. Marketing campaigns for the research segment of teens should consider use of offline and online tactics. Such campaigns could advertise products offline to get more detailed information online, particularly given teen uses of multiple media sources.79

Leisure Activities

Teen activities related to sports viewing and playing, as well as watching television/movies, aligned with higher trust toward advertising (Table 3). These activities support a psychographic segment that exhibits less skepticism toward advertising in general, but doesn’t necessarily think more favorably about advertising or make use of it for purchases. Such findings suggest that this segment experiences advertising messages within a context of credibility. A teen’s favorite sporting event or movie that includes product placement may build on this trust orientation. As these activities and interests frequently engage this segment in multiple online and offline media,80 integrating marketing communications across vehicles is recommended81 to increase credible experiences for this less-skeptical group that can extend to attitude change and purchases.

A stronger reception to advertising can be seen among teens spending their free time reading the news, listening to music and socializing at parties, who appear to think positively about advertising in general, and make use of it for purchases. These combined interests could be viewed as a segment positive toward advertising messages or contexts that resonate with such activities. With teen trends toward higher use of social network sites, this segment likely uses online and offline media to follow the news and their music interests, and share information with friends. Indeed, reading online news and magazines is factored into the time young people spend on the computer. 82 And online behaviors reinforce offline socializing with friends, with 72% of teens that use social network sites making use of them to plan social outings. 83Further, these teens may be predisposed to like marketing communications integrated with a party context – such as a dance, concert or special event for participation in-person, on television or online – a tactic increasingly used by MTV, for example, to integrate advertisers of products to record labels to appeal to the ever-changing interests of young people.84 These findings coincide with Napoli and Ewing’s85 study of Australian teens, in which activities linked to attitudes toward particular forms of advertising. For advertisers, implications are that teens choosing to spend their free time in online and offline activities related to their interests and social circles would be more receptive to advertising messages that they might indeed make use of particularly in these contexts. Again, this segment also may be more vulnerable to marketing messages in these leisure contexts.

This study shows skepticism found in past teen studies86 and related to activities87 though from another vantage point. Teens who rate relaxing as a frequent leisure activity are predisposed to not trust advertising, and tend not to use advertising information. This segment may find advertising interrupting media uses for relaxation. They may be more exposed to advertising if relaxing includes taking in media that includes advertising, which may provide more understanding of advertiser tactics and less belief in messages.88Studies in the 1970s found television exposure influencing teen susceptibility to advertising89 but not purchase decisions,90 both noting effects from other socialization and age variables. Advertising that overcomes lack of trust or is less disruptive/more enhancing to overall media experiences – across different forms of exposure – may help reach this segment.

The three regression models saw demographic variables of age, gender and number of siblings impact findings. Only siblings remained significant for uses of advertising. These findings suggest maintaining demographic variables in future investigations. Siblings can offer information and reinforcement of family orientations to consumer behavior, particularly related to Internet usage.91

Limitations and Future Research

Measures for the research questions could have benefited from more dimensions of trust, a concept studied from various perspectives related to advertising attitudes, and evaluations of different forms of media advertising.92 Within forms of advertising, different attitudes also may be elicited. U.S. adults in a recent study expressed advertising trust that varied across different types of media advertising and distinct constructs for trust and credibility,93 which were not separated in this study. Further clarifications of teen leisure activities, such as watching sports or listening to music, related directly to Internet motivations and interactions with advertising would be helpful. More specificity on social networking would help us understand types of activities this online motivation entails, such as interactions on particular types of web sites.

Our convenience sample was limited to the Midwest. The sample included a higher number of older teens than younger teens, did not provide opportunity for socioeconomic questions and did not account for amounts of time respondents typically spend online. Future research should consider how teens develop marketplace knowledge related to advertising persuasion;94 adolescent vulnerabilities for particular types of advertising and products;95 and qualitative insights that better define attitudes related to teen life with the Internet96 as well as social interactions related to advertising97 online and offline.

Sara Steffes Hansen is an assistant professor of journalism at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. James Tsao is chair of the Department of Advertising at Syracuse University. The authors wish to acknowledge the students of Media Research at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh for their assistance in gathering data helpful for this research, an earlier published study and a related conference presentation. The authors also thank anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions.

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