Nav: Home

In today's advertising environment, cleverness can backfire

March 14, 2016

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- When it comes to display advertising -- especially online -- simpler can be better. That's the implication of new research from the University of Maryland and Tilburg University in The Netherlands.

  One theory of advertising holds that display ads need a degree of nuance or visual complexity in order to capture the viewer's attention. But that fails to take into account the increasingly cluttered and hectic context in which ads are viewed today, according to Michel Wedel, distinguished university professor and PepsiCo Chair in Consumer Science at UMD's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

"A lot of advertising is being tested over fairly long exposures -- several seconds, or even 10 to 20 seconds," says Wedel. "The problem is that ads that do well in that scenario may not do well in short exposures." Complexity especially does not pay off online, Wedel says, where eye tracking research shows that people actively try to avoid ads. But billboards and even many print ads are often taken in with a glimpse, too.

A new paper by Wedel, Millie Elsen and Rik Pieters (of Tilburg University) tests reactions to ads over periods as short as 100 milliseconds, which is less than a full "eye fixation," or a full glance. The authors broke ads into three categories. "Upfront" ads, those that present a product in a straightforward, expected, typical way (a photo of a bottle of orange soda to sell orange soda, for example) are grasped and received positively by viewers in those 100 milliseconds, the authors found. They continue to be viewed positively over 5, 10 or even 30 seconds.

"Mystery ads," whose visual complexity require work on the part of the viewer to decode, are viewed less positively than upfront ads in the initial glimpse, but they gain in approval over time, reaching similar levels. One example in the study showed a ninja severing a rope holding a refrigerator, which was about to crush apples to create juice.

A third kind of ad uses a clear image of one thing to sell something different, as when a headshot of a blonde woman is used to sell wheat beer. The authors called that a "false front" ad. Such ads are initially appealing, because they appear comprehensible, but are liked less once viewers reorient themselves to the right interpretation. "We find very little justification for false-front ads," Wedel says. "People don't like to be duped." Sponsored content, ads that take the form of news articles, would fall into this category.

The pleasure derived from ads was closely connected with whether viewers believed they grasped their gist, surveys of test subjects demonstrated.  Positive reviews had little connection to visual appeal, visual complexity, or the ratio of text to image.

The authors tested the three types of ads in three experiments, both in labs and online, involving a total of 1,360 test subjects and 50 advertisements. The advertisements were a mixture of real-life ads and ads modified by the researchers to fit into one of the categories. The first experiment looked at reactions at 100 milliseconds, or 2, 5 or 30 seconds. The second looked at 100 milliseconds, 500 milliseconds, 2 seconds and 10 seconds. In the final experiment, test subjects could look at ads as long as they wanted.

In some cases, the researchers controlled for the recognizability of brands. In others, they looked at the effect of brand recognition on the ad ratings. Test subjects tended to rate brands they recognized higher, but brand recognition did not change the order of preference for the ad types.

In a demonstration that upfront ads are underrated, the authors analyzed a set of 150 recipients of a major advertising prize. 75 percent were mystery ads, 15 percent were upfront ads, and 10 percent were false-front ads.

"We aren't saying that ad agencies shouldn't be creative anymore," Wedel says. There are some contexts when you can be sure an ad will be viewed with great attentiveness, like the Super Bowl. But for online banner ads, for example, advertisers should realize that they'll have only a tenth of a second of a viewer's attention, if that. And so they should stick to the basics: What's the product? And what's the brand?

"Thin Slice Impressions: How Advertising Evaluation Depends on Exposure Duration," by Millie Elsen, Rik Pieters and Michel Wedel, has been accepted at the Journal of Marketing Research.
-end-


University of Maryland

Related Advertising Articles:

Leicester academics argue sexualised drinks advertising undermines anti-rape campaigns
Academics examined the effectiveness of a rape prevention campaign in bars and nightclubs in Liverpool.
New tool to show advertising revenue generated by each Facebook user
Researchers at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, as part of a European research project, have developed a new software tool which allows Facebook users to visualize the advertising revenue they generate while browsing in this online social network.
Cornell Tech grads' receive major technology award for revolutionizing video advertising
Cornell Tech graduates have launched a software startup called Uru that uses computer-vision technology to automatically find blank surfaces inside video -- a desk, a wall, even a plain T-shirt -- that can host advertisements that are unobtrusive and unblockable.
It pays to go beyond the last word when advertising using Google AdWords
A forthcoming article in the INFORMS journal Marketing Science compares advertising strategies based on last touch and first touch keyword effectiveness metrics and finds that while the return on investment of a last touch strategy is 5 percent more than a first touch strategy, a strategy based on weighting the two metrics improves ROI by another 5 percent.
Research letter examines cancer center advertising spending
Total spending on advertising to the public by 890 cancer centers in the United States was $173 million in 2014, according to an article published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.
More Advertising News and Advertising Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...