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A TiVo HD DVR system. (JOERN BLOHM/AP)
A TiVo HD DVR system. (JOERN BLOHM/AP)

Persuasion notebook

Ads that fast-forward to the brain Add to ...

Everyone loves uninterrupted TV time. It’s why digital video recorders (DVRs) have become so popular. But while these gadgets may allow us to get through the ads faster, we may not be skipping them as much as we think.

According to a new study from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, viewers who fast-forward through commercial breaks may still be getting the message. In fact, those ads may even have more of an impact on them.

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The study, which will be published in the Journal of Consumer Research in February, suggests that when people fast-forward past the ads, they may be letting down their defences, thinking they are not watching ads. That opens an opportunity for the brand images racing past to get their attention.

But it also says something about how to get those viewers’ attention at higher speeds: In one experiment, researchers showed 84 people TV clips with commercial breaks (some fast-forwarded and some at regular speed). They found that at the faster speed, ads made the biggest impact when situated next to another ad for a product that consumers viewed very differently. Participants were more likely to choose Mountain Dew when they had seen its commercial run alongside an ad for the Honda Pilot – a brand viewed as sincere, as opposed to the soft drink’s “edgy” and “exciting” image. By contrast, they were less likely to choose the drink when they viewed the commercial back-to-back with an ad for Hummer, also a brand associated with excitement.

But that was only true for people who watched the commercials in fast-forward. The study did not see the same results for the group who were shown ads at regular speed.

The research showed the same finding in print advertising – people were more likely to choose a product when it was paired in an image with a dissimilar product, but only when they were distracted while looking at the image, asked to think about other details.

“The media landscape is a totally different ball game than it was even just a few years ago,” Fuqua marketing professor Gavan Fitzsimons said in a statement.

The findings should influence marketers when they think about advertising placement as new media changes the way they reach consumers, he suggested.

“This study shows when a consumer’s defences are down and they aren’t thinking about the products they are exposed to, the differences between one brand and another are highlighted, making it really stand out without the consumer realizing it,” he said. “… Our findings suggest that the brand personalities many companies have so painstakingly cultivated may be influenced in ways that are difficult to control, namely by the brand personalities of other products in the same advertising block, or in the same visual field.”

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