Are TV ads more effective if we pay less attention to them?

I consider this a speculative result but it is interesting nonetheless:

"There has been a lot of research which shows that creative TV ads are more effective than those which simply deliver information, and it has always been assumed that it is because viewers pay more attention to them.

"But in a relaxed situation like TV watching, attention tends to be used mainly as a defence mechanism. If an ad bombards us with new information, our natural response is to pay attention so we can counter-argue what it is telling us. On the other hand, if we feel we like and enjoy an ad, we tend to be more trustful of it and therefore we don't feel we need to pay too much attention to it.

"The sting in the tail is that by paying less attention, we are less able to counter-argue what the ad is communicating. In effect we let our guard down and leave ourselves more open to the advertiser's message.

"This has serious implications for certain categories of ads, particularly ads for products that can be harmful to our health, and products aimed at children.

"The findings suggest that if you don't want an ad to affect you in this way, you should watch it more closely."


Actually, the thesis of relaxed viewing of messages in TV is right at one extreme -- we may be more willing to accept a message that is humorous, less pushy, soft -- but wrong at the other extreme.

Let me give you an example of the other extreme.

Look for commercials that make you anxious -- an impending car crash in an insurance commercial, something that could go bad if not attended to, high adventure ads with cars etc. -- you focus on that message more because of the anxiety response, and you remember the ad. Anxiety, attentiveness and recall work closely together.

Advertisers should put more effort into studying the effects of the (often large) volume differential in commercials vs programming.

I go straight to mute at commercials simply because they are deafeningly loud.

I know that the ads I pay the most attention to are the ones I hate the most, because, like an old man, I yell at the tv when something that annoys me is on. And if I hate an ad, I will almost certainly vow not to buy the product.

Such as:
Progressive's "Flo" commercials (god I hate her)
any Subaru ad (so pretentious)
any crappily made local ad (people need to realize that bad ads are worse than no ads -- you are actually paying money to convince people not to patronize you)
infomercial style ads: because of the format, I am convinced that all of these products are scams. Is this true? I don't know because I don't buy them, but if their ads are convincing me that they're scams, maybe they need to reconsider the framing.
Good call on the anxious ads above by Bill -- I hate those car insurance ads where people are horribly killed in car accidents. Cause yeah, that's what I want to be watching. Thanks guys, for trying to capitalize on fear to sell me crap.
Oh... worst of all. That smug fourth-wall breaking asshole with the obnoxious hair on the State Farm commercials. I hate him almost as much as Flo, but that's only because he hasn't been around as long.

Now, some companies have actually discovered that if you make good ads, people actually enjoy watching them. The recent campaigns from Old Spice (Terry Crews or 'Look At Your Man') and Dos Equis (The most interesting man in the world) are actually pretty funny, and often more enjoyable than the shows they interrupt.

Hmm, I may have rambled a bit there.

Mute is my favorite solution. Just glance at the TV every so often until the show comes back on. Or DVR and then skip through commercials.

Why would you want to hear, or watch, commercials?

@Johnboy, The comments were part of a lecture, and not its subject, so still looking.

But, you might want to look at Chip and Dan Heath's Book, Made to Stick, and particularly Chapter 2, The Unexpected.

Then watch some TV commercials and ask: is this commercial making me attentitive and what is it that does. It's not just humor that gets you attentive.

@Johnboy, I admit I cannot find the presentation. The lecture was on how difficult it is for consumers to make 3x3 product comparisons with products with multiple attibutes or above, and anxiety attention grabbing was given as an example of how we make short cuts. Since then I started watching commercials for this anxiety/attentiveness. But, I do not have sources I can cite to other than Chip Heath's chapter or a recent beer commercial where some guy stands on a bridge wearing a bunjee cord, looking down, reluctant to jump, but spotting below some babes in a boat. He jumps to get the beer. Fear of heights (ask how you feel when you look way down below and ask if you are now attentive) to be overcome by pleasure of beer. Or the guy pretending to be a babe that runs into cars or stands on a limb, crashing the car; or the speed race of those BMW cars (note: done by professionals only: do not attempt on your own). Or, maybe I'm just too anxious but the messages stick. (I like the gecho anticipating when he will be sucked up into the mail tube too--don't you just want to tell him to step away. Or not.)

Six Ounces and Brian Moore - We are not the target audience of any advertisement. Advertisers know that people like us exist and they tend to shy away. Those awesome commercials from Old Spice and Dos Equis (I've actually looked them up to show them off I think they are so good) have not increased my contributions to either company (a clean $0 to both companies, maybe I've spent all of $10 prior to noticing the ads). It is a waste of money to target us as we are prone to view advertisements as pieces of art (ie, most are filth and good art does not lead me to purchase anything other than good art).

I will say that I notice small affects for food products, especially when hungry. So I'm not completely immune, especially when it's as the article describes, just a completely instinctive desire completely by-passing my logical brain. Get me to barely notice your ad and allow me to suspend my disbelief and your company can gain an extra tiny little positive correlation in my cerebellum. Worth the effort? Not on my account.

It's a mistake to think that an advertiser wastes money if its ad is seen by people who aren't in the target audience and are unlikely to ever buy the product. One reason I might enjoy driving a BMW is that people who can never afford it recognise the brand. Part of what advertising provides (uniquely vs other forms of communication like direct mail) is the social currency of fame, rather than just the delivery of selling messages.

What the research had missed out is the fact that TV Ads should have that recall factor. The more you pay attention to it, the more it gets into your memory. Whereas those ads that gets less attention from you dissipates from your memory gradually.

Ok, I accept I'm not in the target audience of most of these goods. Still, I have to wonder whether advertising really is cost-effective for anything other than high-margin ripoffs.

My hypothesis, totally unsupported by any data, is that Google links don't generate business for advertisers net of costs. I think Google makes money from a constant queue of companies who THINK it will be effective. It's an endless line of fools.

BTW, I love the "Most Interesting Man in the World" commercials. Dos Equis purchases from me = zero.

Billy Mays sent me.

I think so. "We are not the target audience of any advertisement." But, advertisings are happening and will continue to happen forever. May be the main purpose is to place the product in our top-of-mind-recalling.

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