Digital video recorders have led marketing managers to question the effectiveness of traditional television advertising. This research explores the visual perception of advertising, how fast-forwarded advertisements are perceived, and what managers can do to make their advertisements effective even when they are fast-forwarded. Through a series of three studies, the authors identify centrally located visual brand information as a key driver of fast-forwarded ad effectiveness and show that advertisements designed with heavy amounts of central branding can retain both memory and behavioral effectiveness. This holds even when viewers see just one-twentieth of the frames and when a 30-second commercial is condensed into less than 1.5 seconds.
Building on visual marketing and perceptual psychology literature, the authors conduct two eye-tracking studies that explore participants’ visual attention to a custom-designed television show with several commercial breaks. Fast-forwarding eliminates most motion cues that encourage visual search and discourages attempts to track stimuli, so fast-forwarding viewers strongly constrain their vision to the center of the screen. Brand information located at the center of the screen is visually attended to at a greater rate than brand information placed elsewhere, which is almost completely ignored. This effect is consistent whether viewers fast-forward themselves or view commercials that are automatically fast-forwarded, suggesting that the center-of-screen bias is endemic to how fast-forwarded media appears rather than to something created by giving viewers interactive control. Although, overall, brand information predicts brand recognition for regular-speed viewers, only centrally located brand information predicts recognition for fast-forwarding viewers. Surprisingly, the location of the commercial “bumper” that informs the viewer that the commercial break is ending and the show is returning has little effect; regardless of where the bumper is placed on the screen in the second study, the center-of-screen bias persisted.
The effects of central branding are not limited to brand recognition. A third study shows that fast-forwarded advertisements with heavy central branding can lead to increased brand attitude and behavioral intent, whereas advertisements with peripheral or limited branding have little or no effect. Properly designed advertisements can affect actual choice behavior even when fast-forwarded; as part of the fast-forwarding study, participants chose a product with heavy-central-branded advertisements over a product with limited-branding advertisements roughly two-to-one.
Overall, this research qualifies the “more-branding-is-better” argument for television commercials and suggests that only central branding has the capability of breaking through fast-forwarding. The importance of branding location in this research highlights that vision and perception are areas of advertising research that deserve of more study. In addition, the center-of-screen bias was present, albeit less strong, for regular-speed viewers, which suggests that increasing the central branding of television commercials can have benefits for all viewers.
S. Adam Brasel is an assistant professor in the Marketing Department at Boston College. He received his BS and MBA from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and his PhD from Stanford University. His primary research interest is in visual marketing, and as codirector of the CSOM Eyetracker Lab, he explores how our rapidly changing media environment affects consumer perception and visual processing. He also explores branding issues related to brand personality and consumer–brand relationships. His 2004 article “When Good Brands Do Bad,” with Jennifer Aaker and Susan Fournier, won the Best Article Award at Journal of Consumer Research.
James Gips is Egan Professor of Computer Science and Chairperson of the Information Systems Department in the Carroll School of Management at Boston College. He received an SB from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MS and a PhD in Computer Science from Stanford. For the last 12 years, his research has concentrated on the development of technologies to allow children with profound disabilities to access the computer. He is the director of the EagleEyes Project, which distributes EagleEyes and Camera Mouse access technologies for free to families, schools, and hospitals. He is the recipient of a 2007 da Vinci Award “honoring exceptional design and engineering achievements in accessibility and universal design, that empowers people of all abilities.”
Journal of Marketing, Volume 72, Number 6, November 2008
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