Document Type

Theses, Ph.D


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details

Thesis submitted in accordance with the requirements of Technological University Dublin for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, May 2022.


Teenagers are avid consumers of social media and consequently, constitute attractive target audiences for marketers. On social media, advertising can be integrated into content such as YouTube videos and Instagram posts which means the boundary between commercial content (the advertisement) and non-commercial content (e.g., the video in which the ad appears) becomes increasingly blurred. Therefore, in this context, the consumer must be able to navigate a minefield of overt and covert advertising that is disseminated by a range of sources, including brands and social media influencers. A resulting concern for academics, parents and policy makers alike relates to young people’s understanding, evaluation and critical responses to such advertising practices, i.e., their advertising literacy. In order to command a basic level of advertising literacy, consumers need to be able to recognise the source of an advertisement, identify the commercial and persuasive intent, and subsequently enact a critical response. However, this can become challenging in the context of newer advertising practices on social media platforms where advertising content can be seamlessly woven into editorial content that is interactive, entertaining, and engaging. It follows that if a young consumer cannot properly identify and respond to an advertising episode, then the act of targeting them is unethical.

This thesis reports on a qualitative study of 29 teenagers aged 15–17 years. The aim was to investigate teenagers’ dispositional and situational advertising literacy in the context of the overt and covert advertising formats which prevail on social media platforms. The study sought to investigate their general knowledge, attitudes and judgements regarding advertising which develops over time (dispositional AL), but also their ability to retrieve and apply this knowledge during exposure to specific advertising episodes (situational AL). The findings indicate that whilst the participants had a highly developed associative network about SM advertising (i.e., their dispositional AL), their ability to retrieve and apply it (i.e., their situational AL) was dependent on the nature and origin of advertising. Specifically, the marketer’s ability to craft messaging which delights the consumer; emerges from a meaningful source; or provides opportunities for social learning can impede critical response.